The Summer Wives
By Beatriz Williams
Author Website: www(.)beatrizwilliams(.)com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound as a naive eighteen year old, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. Although a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia, Miranda has always lived on the margins of high society. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda is catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.
But beneath the Island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans—the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph has enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and has a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the Island for nearly two decades.
Now, in the summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same—determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naive teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice to the man she once loved—even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island. (Goodreads)
The Summer Wives is a sophisticated summer beach read full of family drama, romance, murder, secrets, and class dynamics.
The story takes place on the exclusive Winthrop Island where a select group of wealthy and elite families summer. Their glitzy gin filled days and nights are a stark contrast to the poorer, year round residents, most of whom are Portuguese fisherman and domestics. Told over three distinct, life altering summers (1930, 1951, and 1969) with two narrators, the structure of the novel allows for a slow buildup to the revelation of THE big secret. Williams’ elegant writing paints a sensual picture of contrasts and dysfunction.
Even though the characters are somewhat portrayed as stereotypes, the character development is superb and the relationships deliciously complex. Everyone has their secrets and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the island insular. These summer residents may have all the money in the world, and are snobby beyond belief, but they are sure not a happy bunch, idle hands being the devil’s workshop and all that. The tale is a bit more soap opera-ish than I would prefer, but it is a captivating read.
We learn most everything from Miranda, as a naive eighteen year old new to the elite scene and as a thirty-six year old world weary actress licking her wounds. Is it a coincidence that she comes to the island after an eighteen year absence when her first love Joseph Vargas escapes from jail? My favorite thread takes place in 1951 when there is still some innocence, hopes, and dreams to be found. This part of the story is the most detailed and believable. Some readers may find the alternating periods confusing, but I had no difficulty keeping the characters and actions straight, and it requires all three threads to make the big reveal happen.
I enjoyed The Summer Wives, and rejoice that my life is not so complicated. It is definitely a book for adults. As one can imagine, there are adult themes and situations throughout. I recommend it to fans of Williams’ other works and romance readers looking for a meaty tome.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*