Jennifer Weiner has been in the publishing industry for as long as I’ve been choosing my own books. Her debut novel Good In Bed came out in 2001; I was twelve years old and remember thinking the title was scandalous. Twenty-one years later, I got my hands on an ARC of The Summer Place (in stores May 10—just in time for summer) and after reading Mrs Everything two summers ago (and getting a rare five-star rating from me!) I was excited to jump in and experience Cape Cod right along with these characters.
When her twenty-two-year-old stepdaughter announces her engagement to her pandemic boyfriend, Sarah Danhauser is shocked. But the wheels are in motion. Headstrong Ruby has already set a date (just three months away!) and spoken to her beloved safta, Sarah’s mother Veronica, about having the wedding at the family’s beach house in Cape Cod. Sarah might be worried, but Veronica is thrilled to be bringing the family together one last time before putting the big house on the market.
But the road to a wedding day usually comes with a few bumps. Ruby has always known exactly what she wants, but as the wedding date approaches, she finds herself grappling with the wounds left by the mother who walked out when she was a baby. Veronica ends up facing unexpected news, thanks to her meddling sister, and must revisit the choices she made long ago, when she was a bestselling novelist with a different life. Sarah’s twin brother, Sam, is recovering from a terrible loss, and confronting big questions about who he is—questions he hopes to resolve during his stay on the Cape. Sarah’s husband, Eli, who’s been inexplicably distant during the pandemic, confronts the consequences of a long-ago lapse from his typical good-guy behavior. And Sarah, frustrated by her husband, concerned about her stepdaughter, and worn out by challenges of life during quarantine, faces the alluring reappearance of someone from her past and a life that could have been.
When the wedding day arrives, lovers are revealed as their true selves, misunderstandings take on a life of their own, and secrets come to light. There are confrontations and revelations that will touch each member of the extended family, ensuring that nothing will ever be the same.
My goodness, there is a lot of family drama happening in this book. I realize that it’s a fictionalized family, so obviously the drama is going to be a little outside of the ordinary, but literally every family member is hiding a giant, life-changing secret—so many that the plot seems too unbelievable to be real. A family with this many secrets, even with the best of intentions, could not possibly be functional.
That being said, Weiner always brings such life to her characters that you feel like you know them. There were lots of perspectives in this book (probably around 7 POVS) and despite not getting a ton of time with every character, I knew what made them tick and felt like I was somehow part of this crazy family. And despite the length of this book, which took me longer than usual to finish, it didn’t feel like it dragged on at all.
There were two parts that bothered me—and both of these I will not touch in a spoilery way—but the fact that the house was personified was strange to me, though I understand why Weiner did it, and one of the major “truth bombs” that was supposed to be revealed that weekend never got out. We got a resolution about it, sure, but why bother to make it a central part of someone’s story if we’re not going to see it through to the end…
Even though I didn’t love this as much as some of her other work, the characters alone are worth reading and getting to know—just make sure you have many hours to put aside, because it’s a long one.
“Through all her years, the house never gave up. She kept working at it, patiently, assiduously, trying to find ways to let her people know that she heard them, that she saw them, that she wanted to help.” —Jennifer Weiner, The Summer Place
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster and Atria Books for the advanced copy, and to Nakul on Unsplash for the featured photo.