Life is messy.
And Jennifer Weiner’s latest, “The Summer Place” (Atria Books, 416 pp., ★★★★ out of four, out Tuesday), gets at the core of just how life’s twists and turns, choices and moments can consume us – and how beautiful that entanglement can be, despite the hardships. And it happens in the post-lockdown, “return to normal” period we are all experiencing.
On the Outer Cape, Veronica “Ronnie” Levy’s house, which she expected to fill with family through the summers, is feeling empty after her husband died and her children are tied up in their own lives. Daughter Sarah is busy in New York and son Sam is far away in California.
But when Sarah’s stepdaughter – Ronnie’s bonus grandchild – Ruby, 22, announces she’s engaged to her boyfriend who lived with her, Sarah, her father and two brothers during the pandemic, the family is thrust together for a wedding at the Outer Cape home.
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As the wedding approaches, Sarah; her husband, Eli; Ronnie; Ruby; Sam; and the rest of the family are faced with moments that make them question recent and long ago decisions, and the resulting consequences. After all, one simple choice can define the course of one’s life. And the what-ifs linger.
And they all have secrets of their own. Sarah finds herself navigating a marriage that seems off-kilter, and wondering whether to let an old lover back in while questioning her decision to favor logic over her larger dream of becoming a soloist pianist. Eli is consumed by a secret from his past that may have come back to haunt him in an unexpected way that could ruin relationships – both his own and others. Ruby, who is usually sure of her choices, wonders whether she’s pursuing the right path. Sam is facing big questions and reckoning with his sexuality. And Ronnie is dealing with news about her health while also encountering a moment she never thought she would: a love affair from her past that has the potential to unravel the fabric of her family.
As the story unfolded, I was engulfed by the characters’ internal dialogues and the sagas that tied them together, while entwined storylines – including infidelity, questions of identity, past choices that their owners can’t be proud of – threatened to change their relationships permanently.
Readers are privy to the same questions the characters are facing while examining their choices, options and pasts. And I was left wondering myself what the right thing was to do.
Weiner brings to life the difficulty that exists in all of us as we evaluate our life’s course, wrestling with decisions we have left behind while navigating emotions that so often feel impossible to understand.
“The Summer Place” is a quick read, but a deep one, and hints at that pandemic haze that maybe we’ve all felt. The one in which life has been turned upside down and stopped, but has brazenly sped ahead, too. While the book does not address the pandemic directly, it does touch on the changes in environment, the time spent cramped in our houses with some of our loved ones while remaining separated from others.
And with its Cape Cod setting that evokes seashells, cool water, melting ice cream and summer bliss, it’s sure to be the must-have beach bag item this year.