“The Summer Wives” is an engrossing novel, set in a time and place where wealthy families summered in island mansions off the coast of New England, over-drank regularly at their exclusive clubs and played a lot of bridge (actually, they probably still do most of that). It explores themes of love, family and social class in a way that is sometimes melancholy, sometimes hopeful and always engaging.
This is an historic novel that toggles back and forth between the early 1930s, early 1950s and late 1960s. It’s told mostly from the perspective of Miranda, whose mother married Hugh Fisher in 1951, and by doing so, has landed the lonely Miranda into an unfamiliar life of wealth and privilege. She is left in the Fisher mansion on Winthrop Island while her mother and new stepfather take an extended summer honeymoon. But she isn’t completely alone – her new stepsister, the jaded and manic Isobel, takes Miranda under her wing and introduces her to the lifestyle of the idle rich.
Miranda soon meets and falls in love with Joseph, the appealing son of the lighthouse keeper. Class is a bit of an issue but so is the very close relationship between Isobel and Joseph. Miranda thinks Joseph is already taken. Additionally, there is a mysterious issue between Joseph and her stepfather, which doesn’t bode well for these star-crossed lovers.
In the scenes from 1969, an older Miranda returns to Winthrop Island. We learn that she’s a successful actress that has been married for several years to a man who is not Joseph. In fact, it’s quickly revealed that Joseph has recently broken out of prison and is on the run. He has been in jail for a crime that happened during Miranda’s first summer on the island, and it’s something that alienated her from her mother and stepsister.
As Ms. Williams deftly shifts between time periods, she reveals the answers about Joseph’s alleged crime, his relationship to Isobel and Hugh Fisher, and Hugh Fisher’s flawed nature. She also crafts a satisfying love story full of plenty of young angst and longing. Add in a beautiful setting and plenty of misbehaving characters and you’ve got a recipe for a gratitying read.
I strongly recommend “The Summer Wives” and look forward to reading more books by Beatriz Williams.
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