Title: Summer House: A Novel
Author: Nancy Thayer
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Beach Read
Source: Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 4 out of 5
When Charlotte Wheelwright asks for part of her grandmother’s land on Nantucket in order to start an organic garden, her grandmother and the rest of the family readily agrees. After all, Charlotte has never been able to settle down or commit to anything, and they figure this will fizzle out, just like all the rest of her jobs. However, when Charlotte is still on Nantucket a year later and her garden is actually turning a profit, the family members are alarmed. After all, they don’t want Charlotte getting special treatment from her grandmother, Nona.
When the entire family gathers at Nona’s house on Nantucket for her ninetieth birthday, old resentments can’t help but emerge. Teddy, Charlotte’s long lost brother who hasn’t seen the family in years, shows up and brings a surprise with him. Mee, recently divorced, seems to have her eye on every eligible bachelor on the island. And Helen, who has made a startling discovery about her husband, Worth, uses her time on Nantucket to deal with what life has thrown at her and to figure out what to do next. Summer House is a story of family in all its glory – the squabbles, the fights, the love, and above all, the acceptance of one another.
Nancy Thayer captures the spirit of a typical New England family in Summer House. Nona is the head of her family, and her two children are Worth and Grace. Worth has gone into the family business, the bank, but none of his children are interested in it. He grapples with that disappointment, as well as the hope that one of them will change their minds and choose to follow in his footsteps and fulfill the family legacy. This pressure affects his relationship with all of his children, but most notably Teddy. Additionally, this subtext of who will and won’t be working at the bank provides the tension that underlies much of this novel – Grace feels that Nona favors Worth and his children, even though only Worth works at the bank.
The blatant greed in this novel is surprising. It’s clear that Grace’s side of the family, and most importantly, Grace herself, is intent on capturing as much of her mother’s wealth for herself and her daughters as possible. She resents Charlotte because she feels the organic garden is something that Worth’s family is getting that hers isn’t. The candor with which she speaks of her inheritance and her mother’s money is shocking, to say the least. It makes her seem petty and selfish, and it’s interesting that no one tries to call her out on that.
Charlotte was the most appealing character of the novel, as well as the most relatable. Along with her mother Helen, Charlotte really develops over the course of the novel, figuring out what she wants out of life. With Helen, her development encompasses learning to stand on her own two feet rather than constantly depending on her husband. The paths of both of these women are satisfying and really make the book worth reading, especially when they begin to stand up for themselves.
Summer House makes for a entertaining beach read. The family dynamic is interesting. Many of them seem to be out for themselves, which could be a turn-off, but Charlotte and Helen manage to bring the center of the novel to love and acceptance. They keep it from being a sordid tale of family gossip. Summer House would definitely be great for a warm, breezy summer’s day.