The Summer Girls
by Mary Alice Monroe
Published by Gallery Books
Genre: women's lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5
Sometimes a grandma has to do what a grandma has to do, and if stooping to a little emotional blackmail is required, what's the harm?
Sea Breeze, a South Carolina island home, has been in the Muir family for generations, although lately the only people enjoying it are Marietta (Mamaw) and her maid. Mamaw's son, a somewhat pathetic drunk of a charmer, is dead, and his three daughters - by three different baby mamas - are spread out across the country. With Sea Breeze increasingly becoming more work than it's worth, Mamaw decides to sell it and head off to a retirement home, but not before trying to get her three granddaughters together one last time. She invites them ostensibly for a weekend to celebrate her birthday, but when they get there, she demands they stay the summer. If they want their inheritance, they will.
The eldest, Dora, lives in South Carolina with her autistic son Nate, and has recently been left by her husband. Carson is out in California, where she works as a set photographer, and the youngest, Harper, is in New York, where she works for her frosty British mother. The three girls agree to stay, and we readers rub our hands together, knowing that secrets will be revealed, relationships discovered, and drama entailed.
The first of a planned trilogy, this one focuses primarily on Carson. She's the first to the island, but not out of any burning desire to see Mamaw. She lost her job and has no money, so she's hoping that the sale of Sea Breeze will give her a financial boost. But not so fast, Carson. First, she needs to get a j-o-b. She becomes a waitress at a local pub, where she meets a handsome marine biologist focused on saving dolphins. This connection becomes important, because while out surfing, Carson comes under potential attack by a shark and is rescued by a dolphin. You learn a lot about dolphins in this book, but in a good way. It's interesting stuff.
Dora and Nate arrive, as does Harper, and the three girls attempt to forge a relationship. They learn more details about their shared father, as well as about each other. Their burgeoning closeness does not feel forced or unnatural; it proceeds the way you think it would, slowly and in fits and starts.
Sea Breeze is a silent character throughout, as are the South Carolina waters. If this book doesn't make you ache to take off your shoes and dig your toes in the sand, nothing will. There are times you think you can smell the ocean and feel the dolphin's skin.
As stories go, Monroe writes a fairly interesting one. The characters occasionally seem cookie-cutter, but I expect that will change once we get to know Dora and Harper. With Carson fully fleshed out, you can see potential for the other two. Mamaw is entirely predictable and straight out of Central Casting, but her purpose here is to operate as a conduit to get to know her "summer girls." If it occasionally gets too focused on dolphins, that's okay, because Monroe wants us to understand them better. Perhaps if we are more conscious of what harms them, we will take better care of them.