The Summer We Read Gatsby: A Novel
Viking Adult (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0670021784 / 9780670021789)
Fiction, 304 pages
Source: ARC from independent publicist (Engelman & Co.) – pub date June 2010
Reason for reading: Accepted for review
Opening Lines: “Hats, like first husbands in my experience, are usually a mistake. But the invitation was specific. And demanding. A GATSBY party. Wear white. And below that, in imploring cursive: ‘Hats for the Ladies.'”
Comments: It’s not uncommon for New Yorkers to want to get out of the city for at least part of the hot, steamy summer, and the eastern reaches of Long Island are a popular destination choice for some. Personally, I’ve never known any of those people; my own New York family members retreated to New Jersey during the summer (Budd Lake for earlier generations, and later the Jersey Shore before it was Jersey Shore). But my own summer escapes often been virtual ones, via books. I’ve meant to get to The Summer We Read Gatsby all summer long, but didn’t manage to start it until summer was practically over; I was still reading it on the first day of autumn.
The summer in which Danielle Ganek’s novel takes place is not the summer in which half-sisters Cassie “Stella” and Pecksland “Peck” Moriarty read The Great Gatsby – that was seven years earlier, when both young women spent the season at the Southampton house of their eccentric, generous, and loving Aunt Lydia. Both were nursing heartache at the time – Peck over her recent breakup, and Cassie over the death of her mother. Now, these two sisters – raised on different continents by their different mothers, rarely together and with next to nothing in common other than a father and the summers they spent at Lydia’s – are brought back together at their aunt’s house one last time, having jointly inherited it after her recent death. It’s a house they can’t afford to keep but are ambivalent about selling, filled with both memories of Lydia and secrets of hers they’re about to learn. They’re about to learn some things about each other, and about themselves as well, as this eventful summer often hearkens back to that earlier one.
I find myself without a lot to say about this novel. It was a pleasant read, but it seemed like it had almost too much going on and, at times, wasn’t entirely sure what it was trying to be. Mystery? Satire? Romance? Madcap comedy? Contemplative interpersonal drama? It seems to have elements of all of these, sprinkled with literary (mostly Gatsby-related) references and modern-art commentary. And while I figured out what the “thing of utmost value” was way before Cassie and Peck did, I did enjoy watching them trying to get there. I chuckled at times, and felt empathy at others. The strength of the novel is in the characters Ganek has created; even the quirkiest aren’t just quirky for quirkiness’ own sake, and I generally found them appealing and cared about what happened to them. However, since she’s made the choice to use Cassie as a first-person narrator, there are several characters that we don’t get to know much below the surface, and if we had, I think the story might have been stronger.
I think The Summer We Read Gatsby would have been a nice summer read, actually – engaging, light, warm, not too fluffy, and relatively fleeting. I didn’t love it, but it was enjoyable, and there’s room for books like that at any time of year.