SUMMERLONG by Dean Bakopoulus

I’ve seen Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos on many 2015 summer book lists – usually enjoying glowing reviews – and it was positively reviewed by a few sources I trust (Book Chatter and Ron Charles), so I decided to give it a go.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.

Summerlong is about an odd love square (is that a thing?) that forms one hot summer in Grinnell, Iowa. Claire and Don are married, in their late 30s, and at a precipice in their marriage. Don, a realtor, has hidden their dire financial situation from his wife, and the two now face foreclosure on their house and an inevitable bankruptcy filing. Meanwhile, Charlie, an underemployed actor in his late 20s, is back in town to go through his father’s papers and prepare his house for sale after his father is moved to a nursing home with dementia. And ABC, a recent Grinnell graduate, has returned to her college town after the death of her best friend/lover, mired in grief.

One night, these characters interact in an unexpected way: Don comes across ABC lying in the grass, smoking pot, and joins her for an intimate but chaste evening of sleeping next to each other and getting stoned. Claire goes for a midnight run and meets Charlie in the parking lot of a convenience store, where they share an instant attraction. Over the course of the next 3 months, the characters couple off in a variety of combinations, sometimes consummating their attractions and sometimes not. Don and Claire’s marriage deteriorates until they decide to separate, while ABC floats along in her grief and depression and Charlie tries, unsuccessfully, to find his father’s missing manuscript and redeem his academic reputation.

I really didn’t like Summerlong.  I did appreciate some of the insights into marital harmony and middle age that Bakopoulos infused into Claire and Don’s relationship. But I found the other relationships unrealistic and strange, and I had a really hard time with most of the dialogue in the book. I don’t think people talk to each other in real life like they do in Summerlong. Claire and Don were blunt and sharp to the point of meanness – do most married people act like that to each other?

Lots of drugs, lots of sex. I don’t have a problem with that, but they became a crutch for the author. These characters didn’t have much to say to each other or a genuine attraction, so he just had them get stoned and hook up. Problem solved! There are also too many unlikely coincidences.

There’s a feisty old grandmother type who says it like it is and eventually saves some of these doomed characters. Meh.

Didn’t these characters have ANYONE else to hang out with other than the other three?

Don and Claire’s kids – didn’t THEY find the whole setup kind of weird?

Why is Claire so angry all the time? And why hasn’t she worked for the last 10 years? For a feminist New Yorker, she sure depends on her man to make everything better.

These questions plagued me as I read Summerlong. I just didn’t get it. I know I am in the minority on this one – people seem to love this book. It just made me angry.


  • August 19, 2015 - 9:19 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen rave reviews too and have wanted to read this. Thanks for tempering my expectations.

  • August 19, 2015 - 11:10 am | Permalink

    So so glad I read your review. I had this on my list to read, but am definitely taking it off now. This is why it’s good to read a bunch of reviews for books you want to read. So many that I’ve read have been positive, but I want to hear the negatives so I know what I’m getting into. Thanks for saving me both time and money.

  • August 19, 2015 - 11:13 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting to hear other viewpoints. I do agree that the dialogue was forced and that certain things seemed a bit convenient but I feel as if their particular situation is more common than we maybe want to believe.

    That forced dialogue is what you get when one person is trying really hard to make up for their mistakes and shortcomings, and the other person absolutely HATES everything the guy stands for. Claire was a total bitch and angry as hell because she felt as if her life had been taken from her; the life she was meant to live. The one where she is a successful author and all is golden. The reality though, even as messed up as Don’s secret debt is, is that she can’t really blame all of it on the marriage. She finds this out when she hooks up with Charlie and although it’s not a clear “aha” moment, it becomes clear to her that Don is not the only person to blame for their current situation.

    And the other characters, convenient? Maybe, but they had their own set of problems and used the others to escape from them for a tiny bit. Not unusual really. Small town. Limited circle of friends and when you are miserable, you take what you can when it’s offered.

    This isn’t a story to love. It’s depressing and the characters are not likable but I thought the author really captured a marriage on the brink of disaster.

    • gayle
      August 20, 2015 - 10:57 pm | Permalink

      Agree that the story is depressing and characters are unlikable. I just had trouble picturing their actions actually happening.

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