Midsummer
Marcelle Clements
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Midsummer

Marcelle Clements
Harvest Books
Paperback
304 pages
May 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Five New Yorkers rent a vacation place on the Hudson River, summer weekends stretching out before them, a relief from the constant bustle of Manhattan. The estate is luxurious and full of promise, featuring palatial rooms, pool and a blooming rose garden.

Kay and Susie have known each other since their school days. Kay agrees to spend the entire summer at the estate. Still healing from an emotional upheaval that has challenged her resources, she intends to wallow in the Monday-through-Friday solitude, ready to socialize by the weekends, when Susie arrives with Dodge, an artist, Ron, a stand-up comedian cum college dropout, and Elise, a sculptor. Added to the eclectic mix of displaced Manhattanites is Susieís twenty-something son, Billy.

The first kink in the plan is Kayís unexpected attraction to Billy, whom she has known all his life. In the flush of early manhood, Billy is tempted by the siren call of the older woman, especially one who resists so beautifully. Yet neither is quite prepared to face their exquisite dilemma or its ramifications. Chapter by chapter, each weekender indulges in personal angst, questioning lives, motivations, the future and the nature of loneliness at a certain age, marriage, divorce and children already behind them. But on Friday evenings, as the sun sets on the ethereal beauty of their vacation respite, the roommates toast to another weekend of relaxation and whatever adventures await them.

All of the weekenders are inordinately preoccupied with sex, in thought if not in direct action. Time spins out toward the end of summer, awash in expectations and unrequited fantasies, like planets in the same firmament, yet too far apart to inhabit the same orbit. A series of quasi-connections brings characters together, as they act out small dramas as if practicing for real life. The estate has the charm of a dollís house, the rooms at once bright and merry with laughter, and then quickly cast into darkness with the onset of boredom.

Elise, the sculptor about to enjoy a prestigious New York show of her work, is the resident neurotic, unmarried, slightly overweight and on the cusp of acceptance as an accepted artist. It is Elise, with her innate paranoia, who approaches each of the others, drawn to them as if in search of rejection, her abrasiveness acting as a catalyst on the household dynamic. Claudine, the exhibitionistic au pair from next door, drops in to swim and play tennis, serving as a reminder to everyone, except Billy, of the passage of time and the distant memory of youth.

These long summer weekends offer unique possibilities, a mental mixing and matching, that leaves the reader questioning whether these New Yorkers have what it takes to overcome their innate ambivalence long enough to take action. The element of uncertainty is key to the plot, after all, the indecision so familiar, missed opportunities that are more memorable than actual experience.

Clements captures the essence of yearning, the thrill of the chase that ends in avoidance or disappointment, a faux adolescence for all but Billy, who is delighted to be released from his own awkward youth, that impetuosity the others barely remember. Borrowing middle-aged attitudes prematurely, the housemates barely ripple the surface of the summer, renting a time-out from real life, proving, once more, that you canít go home again.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2004

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