If you were excited to see both Sex and the City movies no matter what the critics said, then Danielle Ganek's second novel is for you. A wry but uplifting tale of two women who inherit a house from their crazy aunt, The Summer We Read Gatsby is a little like sending Kristin Davis on a mission of self-discovery in South Hampton with only Kim Cattrall for support. Voicing their sisterly hijinks is Justine Eyre, winner of two Earphones Awards, who is quite capable of portraying all the upturned noses and spilled martinis it takes to tell this story.
When judgy and uptight ex-pat Cassie is called stateside to handle her Aunt Lydia's estate, she is forced to negotiate it with her half-sister Peck, whose penchant for overusing the dozen words she knows in French is matched only by her desire to become an actress. Off to the Hamptons they go, to Fool's House, where the late Lydia's will cryptically instructs them to "seek the thing of utmost value". They find a safe that may or may not open, lose what may or may not be a very early Jackson Pollock painting that can help them afford to keep the house, and run into old boyfriends that may or may not make suitable husbands.
Along for the ride, of course, are two hilarious gay neighbors and a mysterious artist-in-residence. One Brit, one Scot, and one motorcyclist all of whom Eyre has no trouble expressing with both the appropriate accent and the appropriate level of campy charm aid the girls as they each try to salvage their sense of self in the chaotic legacy Lydia left behind for them. Cassie keeps the sarcasm at a steady drip while Peck piles on etiquette for the glamorous. And all the characters are obsessed with Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby, each in their own ridiculous way.
Still, there is a light touch here. What keeps the narrative grounded is that Ganek herself is an ex-pat who did time in New York's art world, so her observations largely remain astute. What keeps the narration grounded is that Eyre is willing to use her Canadian acting chops to paint a deeper portrait of the people fueling these decadent garden parties. The well-known setting is torn right out of a summer edition Williams-Sonoma catalogue, but Eyre's generous commitment to interpreting the characters as more than just a compilation of witty remarks keeps the book engaging. Megan Volpert
Half-sisters Cassie and Peck could not be more different. Cassie is a journalist with her feet firmly planted on the ground; Peck is an actress with her head in the clouds. In fact, the only thing they seem to have in common is their inheritance.
Fool's House is a broken-down home in the Hamptons left to Cassie and Peck by their Aunt Lydia, a house that she decreed they must share. But Cassie and Peck can't afford the place, and they can't agree on what to do with it. Plus, along with the house, they've inherited an artist-in-residence and self-proclaimed genius named Biggsy who seems to bring suspiciously bad luck wherever he goes. Cassie and Peck try to figure out their Aunt Lydia's puzzling instructions to "seek the thing of utmost value" in the house, but as summer comes to a close, they seem no closer to coming to a decision.
The Summer We Read Gatsby is filled with fabulous parties, tempting romances, eccentric characters, and insider society details. It's a sparkling novel that showcases Danielle Ganek's pitch-perfect sense of style and wit.
©2010 Danielle Ganek (P)2010 Tantor
As I mentioned, I listened to this book so I could participate in my book club discussion. I first want to say that Justine Eyre was very well suited in her role and she did an excellent job with the voices. The story line was entertaining and the epilogue was a surprise point of view that I've not seen before (or heard before - Ha Ha). I enjoyed the story and will recommend it to others.
I did not find it easy to settle in to this story. I found the narrator's tone too artificial somehow and while the story itself was plausible enough it was also a bit predictable and I nearly gave up a couple of times.
I didn't give up though, hearing it through to the end to learn what the aunt considered to be the most valuable gift. In some ways the story was heartwarming and I grew to like the characters better by the story's end. This is not a book I'd jump up and down to recommend but it's a solid enough story.
Fun, cute book, with lots of references to educated topics and jokes funny to those with a college education. It won't win any literary awards, I think, but I'd pass its paperback form on as a fun beach or vacation novel. I personally enjoyed it as a cute, girly audiobook between more intellectual, heavy works to which I listen.
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