Although I’m currently living in the Rocky Mountain region of the US, I spent the majority of my life on the east coast. Before moving to Colorado, I’d never lived more than 20 minutes from the beach – sometimes as close as walking distance. In addition to the usual activities – sandcastles, surfing, swimming, sunbathing – I also adore beach reading. For me, I loosely define this as reading on the beach. However, “traditionally ‘beach reading’ is…the light-hearted, feel-good, female-heavy fiction and, sometimes, non-fiction from the year before, with a little steamy bodice-ripping thrown in for good measure” (borrowing from LitReactor).
Although the beach is beautiful, it’s not without its drawbacks. Hurricanes are one of the hazards of coastal life. I’ve only been through one hurricane, but it was enough (Hurricane Bob). With a storm surge of 20 feet, the Hurricane of 1938 slammed into New England with no warning, devastating the area. Williams borrows from history and utilizes this event to facilitate the novel’s denouement.
Lily Dane is a New York socialite and summer resident of Seaview, Rhode Island. The summer of 1938 promises an idyllic escape – until the unexpected shows up in form of Nick and Budgie Greenwald. Nick, Lily’s former fiance, and Budgie, Lily’s former best friend, are recently married. What follows is the story of how Nick and Lily began and ended and how Nick and Budgie ended up together and the truth about their marriage. Truths will come out, wrongs will be righted, but not before they face the storm of their lives – figuratively and literally.
While A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams is not quite the definition of beach reading listed above, it is close. However, it’s also solid contemporary fiction.
In lieu of a typical review (and because we all love a list), here are ten reasons to pick up A Hundred Summers:
10. There is one good character you’ll love to hate. This should be a prerequisite for good, light summer reading.
9. There are lies, lost loves, and the complications of family.
8. Nothing is as it seems and as secrets are revealed, the tension in the small seaside community builds to a figurative (and, unbeknownst to the citizens, a literal) hurricane. The sense of place Williams creates in the community of Seaview is exquisite.
7. The town of Seaview, Rhode Island is loosely based on the community of Napatree Point, Rhode Island. In the book, the Hurricane of 1938 is also based on a real hurricane of the same name that devastated Napatree Point. As a former resident of New England, I was not familiar with this hurricane, so it made for interesting reading and post book researching.
6. The book’s secrets are revealed in parallel narratives, set in 1931 and 1938. In 1931, Lily and Nick’s love seemed unbreakable, but in 1938 Nick is married to Lily’s former best friend Budgie. What went wrong?
5. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it’s nice to see a pompous, if fictional, Yankees pitcher get his comeuppance. Very satisfying.
4. The characters can be subtly surprising and there were a few twists that I didn’t see coming.
3. At its heart, this is a romantic novel and I like to read those every once in a while. It keeps me believing in true love and that things do work out every once in a while.
2. Set between the economic devastation of the Stock Market Crash in 1929 and World War II, the novel is rich in period detail.
1. In homage to a proper New England summer, the book begins on Memorial Day and ends in September. There are hot and humid nights, football on the beach, fancy parties, lots of gin, and romantic dalliances. Sublime.
Beatriz Williams’ A Hundred Summers (source: review copy) is an easy, pleasant novel that will keep you guessing – I read it in one three-hour sitting. While I wouldn’t call it remarkable, the author has a gift for creating a riveting story. I enjoyed the historical details and the evocative atmosphere she created. This is beach reading with a satisfying twist and I’ll look forward to whatever Williams writes next. 3.5/5.
One of my favorite casual summer lunches is Tarragon Chicken Salad.