Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Summer House"

Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels including Moon Shell Beach, The Hot Flash Club, The Hot Flash Club Strikes Again, Hot Flash Holidays, The Hot Flash Club Chills Out, and Between Husbands and Friends.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her latest novel Summer House, and reported the following:
Summer House is about one turbulent summer in the lives of the Wheelwrights, a fortunate and complicated family who gather at their summer house on Nantucket island. The stories are told by three women:

Charlotte is 30 and adores her grandmother but chafes at the pressure from her parents to marry the right person and have babies.

Helen, 60, longs for grandchildren and worries about her rebellious, alcoholic son. She’s also trying, as always, to fit in with this close-knit and rather stuffy group. Oh, yes, and she thinks her husband is having an affair.

Nona is 90, and trying to love both her children, Worth, and Grace, and their spouses and children, equally. She remembers when she first came to this house in the summer, when she married her husband, just before he shipped out to Europe during WWII. Her mother-in-law was vicious. Nona wants to be loving.

Page 69 takes place in the kitchen of the summer house. It’s a seemingly calm, ordinary moment between Helen and her sister-in-law Grace. Grace’s three daughters do everything right. They don’t rebel, and they’re certainly not colorful. Helen’s three children are, well, extremely colorful.

This morning, Grace is miffed because her mother, Nona, wants Helen’s opinion of what to wear to Nona’s 90th birthday party.

Grace just breathed through her nose like a bull.

“What does Nona need?” Helen asked reasonably.

“She wants you to help her choose which dress to wear tonight.” Grace’s lips thinned. “Although why she needs your opinion, I don’t know.”

Mellie looked up from her breakfast. “Duh, Mom. Look at yourself and then look at Auntie Helen.”

Grace wore sensible khaki shorts, a green polo shirt, and leather moccasins. Helen wore a filmy, flowery sundress, the sort of thing she loved wearing on the islands in the summer, and even though she had basically the same sensible chin-length cut Grace had, Helen’s hair curled in the island humidity, giving her a softer, more feminine appearance. Also Helen wore jewelry, loved jewelry, and not just the staid pearls Grace brought out for dress. Today Helen wore a glass flower on a silver chain hung with bits of beads, and her favorite bracelet, a cuff of thick twisted silver. She wore it when she needed courage, knowing that this sort of superstitious thinking was another quality that set her apart from the real Wheelwrights.

Grace didn’t react to her daughter’s remark. Grace didn’t care about vanity, she cared more about virtue, and considered herself the more responsible mother. The better mother. Helen and Grace had always done their best to get along, and over the years they’d developed a kind of vigilant cooperation, like two mama tigers carrying a bone too heavy for one. And Helen silently admired Grace, even if she didn’t especially like her. Helen thought that Grace secretly liked Helen, a little bit, but didn’t admire her.

This domestic scene, with its gentle, commonplace tensions, is like the first bubbles on the surface of a volcano that is almost ready to erupt. The first explosion will take place that night, as the family leaves for Nona’s birthday party.
Read an excerpt from Summer House, and learn more about the book and author at Nancy Thayer's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue