When Charlotte Wheelwright asks for part of her grandmotherís land on Nantucket in order to start an organic garden, her grandmother and the rest of the family readily agree. After all, Charlotte has never been able to settle down or commit to anything, and they figure this will fizzle out, just like all the rest of her jobs. However, when Charlotte is still on Nantucket a year later and her garden is actually turning a profit, the family members are alarmed. They donít want Charlotte getting special treatment from her grandmother, Nona.
When the entire family gathers at Nonaís house on Nantucket for her ninetieth birthday, old resentments emerge. Teddy, Charlotteís long-lost brother who hasnít seen the family in years, shows up and brings a surprise with him. Mee, recently divorced, seems to have her eye on every eligible bachelor on the island. Helen, who has made a startling discovery about her husband, Worth, uses her time on Nantucket to deal with what life has thrown at her and to figure out what to do next. Summer House is a story of family in all its glory Ė the squabbles, the fights, the love, and above all, the acceptance of one another.
Nancy Thayer captures the spirit of a typical New England family in Summer House. Nona is the head of her family which branches out from her two children, Worth and Grace. Worth has gone into the family banking business, but none of his own children are interested in it. He grapples with that disappointment, as well as the hope that one of them will change their minds and choose to follow in his footsteps and fulfill the family legacy. This pressure affects his relationship with all of his children, most notably Teddy. Additionally, this subtext of who will and wonít be working at the bank provides much of the novelís underlying tension Ė Grace feels that Nona favors Worth and his children, even though only Worth works at the bank.
The blatant greed in this novel is surprising. Itís clear that Graceís side of the family, especially Grace herself, is intent on capturing as much of her motherís wealth for herself and her daughters as possible. She resents Charlotte because she feels that the organic garden is something that Worthís family is getting that hers isnít. The candor with which she speaks of her inheritance and her motherís money is shocking. It makes her seem petty and selfish, and itís interesting that no one tries to call her out on that.
Charlotte is the most appealing character of the novel, as well as the most relatable. Along with her mother Helen, Charlotte really develops over the course of the novel as she figures out what she wants out of life. Helenís development encompasses learning to stand on her own two feet rather than constantly depending on her husband. The paths of both women really make the book worth reading, especially when they begin to stand up for themselves.
Summer House makes for a entertaining beach read with an interesting family dynamic. Many of them seem to be out for themselves, which could be a turn-off, but Charlotte and Helen bring the center of the novel to love and acceptance and keep it from being merely a sordid tale of family gossip.