Tag Archives: suburbia

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.

SWEET RUIN by Cathi Hanauer

First, a final reminder about the first EDIWTB online book club. Hyperion has generously agreed to send review copies of A Middle Place, which I wrote about here, to anyone who’d like to read it.  A few weeks after we’ve all received the book, I’ll post a review of it here, and those who have read it will hopefully keep the conversation going in the comments.  I have already submitted a bunch of names to Hyperion, and will send along any more that I receive at gweiswasser@gmail.com in the next day or two. If the book club goes well, I’d like to make it a regular feature – though in the future I will hopefully have more control over picking the book. I appreciate Hyperion’s generous offer, and I hope that other publishers will agree to provide review copies, but I’d also like to choose the books rather than have them determined by which books are sent to me. (Anyone who has been in a book club with me knows that I am a control freak when it comes to picking books!)

Second, I finished a book today that I really liked. If yu’re a guy, you can probably stop reading right here (I know there are some of you out there who are sick of my female protagonists).  Sweet Ruin, by Cathi Hanauer, is a novel about Elayna, a suburban mom in her mid 30s living in a New Jersey suburb outside New York City. She has a 6-year old daughter and also lost a son a few days after he was born. The book opens 2 years after her son’s death, as she is slowly emerging from her fog of grief.  It explores her flawed marriage, her grief and depression, her relationship with her difficult father, her experience as a mother to her daughter Hazel, suburban parenting, and her affair with Kevin, a young man across the street who falls in love with her.

This book was difficult to put down. I love Hanauer’s writing. Her little observations about motherhood and marriage – wow. Familiar territory. It’s not a perfect book – I think that Elayna’s relationship with Kevin isn’t that convincing in the end. But I like that her characters aren’t painted in black and white. No one’s a villain. Hanauer successfully makes most of her characters sympathetic, even when they are fighting with or hurting each other. This is real life in all its messy, unpredictable, ever-changing beauty.

I just read a review of Sweet Ruin at the Mommy Writer Blog. Check it out – I heartily agree with her. This is a highly enjoyable book that’s several steps above chick lit.

I’d love to hear from others who have read this book.