“The Summer Wives,” by Beatriz Williams, is the story of new money, old money, and no money colliding on an island in the north east coast, told primarily from the point of view of the wealthy (by marrying into it) Miranda. As she spends her first summer on Winthrop Island, among people who’ve been summering their for generations and among the people who live there year round, she’s swept up in the wake of her dramatic new step-sister Isobel. In the few short months she’s there, Miranda gets caught up in a secret of the island, and in the arms of a handsome fisherman/light house keeper.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review.
The novel bounces around in time a bit to build a story around specific characters and maintain a sense of mystery. The “mystery” is blatantly obvious to anyone who’s picked up a book before, leaving the reader to do a bit of math to figure out exactly how old people are at different points in the story. That said, the descriptions of the island, the residents (mostly part time but a few full time), and the drinking culture of the era(s) are lush and well realized.
The story flutters between 1969, 1951, a brief stop in 1970, and a little (but key) time in 1930 with the then-young Bianca. Still shattered by the death of her father (and uncle) during WWII, Miranda is surprised when her mother falls in love with and marries the incredibly wealthy Hugh Fisher after knowing him less than a year. Just before her wedding, in 1951, Miranda and her mother travel to Winthrop Island to his rambling mansion to prepare for the nuptials and become closer to his daughter Isobel. Immediately after the wedding, Miranda’s mother and new step father depart on his yacht for a long honeymoon, leaving Miranda alone with her wild and impetuous new step-sister. Through Isobel, Miranda comes to know Joseph Vargas, who is first introduced to Miranda and to us as he bravely rescues a drowning fisherman out at sea.
We follow Miranda through that difficult summer and the hinted-at murder toward the end of it, and her unhappy marriage that ends in 1969. We come to know Bianca, and the way the sins of the past can’t stay hidden for very long.
The writing is deft enough, and the characters have a sort of F. Scott Fitzgerald wealthy scumbag vibe, which can be hard to pull off. Williams manages it. But the way the “mystery” is handled is clunky and awkward, overly obvious.
This was an alright book, engaging enough that I kept reading it, and finished it in about two days. I wouldn’t actively go looking for anything else by this author, unlike some other books I’ve won.