Four generations of the Young family have called the majestic and aptly-named “Cliff House” home for the summer. The rambling old house may not survive to observe its centennial, however, as the Atlantic Ocean is rapidly claiming the land that Cliff House stands upon. Four generations of women have fought to preserve the old homestead through good times and bad, wartime and peace, and now Bess has arrived home to help her mother, Cissy, pack up and move before the house itself tumbles into the sea.
Cissy has other plans, however, and Bess finds herself trying to convince her mother that the only option is to leave before the situation becomes any more dangerous. Cissy is determined that there must be some way to preserve the eroding beachhead, or perhaps it’s the house itself that should be moved. Bess has left one rough situation behind at her home in California only to land smack in the middle of another emotionally draining mess, and Cissy’s dogged determination is not helping things whatsoever.
What does help is the sense of history that Cissy and Bess both possess, and that common ground helps the women move forward with their relationships with each other, with their partners, and above all with the house that they both love.
Told in a series of flashbacks and present-day, The Book of Summer is a timely elegy to many of the stately old homes along the Atlantic seashore, particularly on Cape Cod and Nantucket, where this story is set. The family history and associated drama plays out with the accompaniment of the attempted preservation of Cliff House, and no individual or structure is guaranteed a happy ending. While the transition from “then” to “now” occasionally hits a few road bumps, especially in terms of the dual narrative, The Book of Summer is quite charming. It’s a contemporary story that shows great reverence for the past, bridging the idyllic summers of wealthy twentieth century industrialists with the reality that nature does as nature wants. Put this one on your summer reading list!