Summer Peopleby Brian Groh
Nathan Empson has just accepted the most unusual summer job of his life. In exchange for serving as a "caretaker” for Ellen Broderick, the eccentric matriarch of an exclusive coastal community, he'll earn a generous paycheck and gain access to one of the last bastions of old New England wealth. But not everyone in town is welcoming—or even civil. And… See more details below
Nathan Empson has just accepted the most unusual summer job of his life. In exchange for serving as a "caretaker” for Ellen Broderick, the eccentric matriarch of an exclusive coastal community, he'll earn a generous paycheck and gain access to one of the last bastions of old New England wealth. But not everyone in town is welcoming—or even civil. And while he discovers companionship with a philosophical, ex-punk Episcopalian pastor, and more than companionship with the alluring nanny to the pastor's children, Nathan finds it increasingly difficult to ignore his employer's unnerving behavior. With each escalating mishap, a new aspect of Ellen's colorful past comes to light, exposing the secret lives of her old friends, flames, and enemies, as well as the story behind a scandalous incident Nathan must prevent her from repeating. Yet to sound the alarm about her condition would mean leaving his beachside oasis and the romance that may well change him forever.
Groh's debut, a fish-out-of-water story about a Cleveland college dropout who spends a summer caring for an elderly woman in a tony Maine beach town, is neither inspiring nor disappointing. Nathan Empson lands in Brightonfield Cove, Maine, with the intention of sorting out his life—his last relationship faltered, he dropped out of college, and he wants to be a graphic novelist—while caring for Ellen Broderick, an ailing elderly Cleveland woman who summers there. His caretaker responsibilities are more demanding than he'd imagined, and through time spent with Ellen, Nathan befriends Eldwin Lowell, an Episcopalian pastor with a drinking problem and a depressed wife, and Leah, the nanny to Eldwin's children who becomes the necessary love interest. As the weeks tick by, Nathan learns intriguing bits about Ellen's past, agonizes over his romantic and artistic woes and, among other things, gets beat up and watches a house burn down. It's a solidly good book. (Apr.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Summer PeopleA Novel
By Brian Groh
EccoCopyright © 2007 Brian Groh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEllen Goes Missing ~ A Visit to St. Michael's ~ An Unconventional Sermon ~ An Apparition Becomes Real
In the morning, Nathan awoke and discovered Ellen was not in her room. Her bed was clumsily made, the blue comforter pulled over rumpled white sheets, and her closet door stood wide open. Downstairs, sunlight poured through first-floor windows, and on his way through the living room, Nathan still registered mild surprise at his surroundings. The house, a sprawling, white clapboard manse, with three chimneys and a wraparound porch, sat on top of a grassy slope with a breathtaking view of Albans Bay. Yet where Nathan had expected an interior expensively understated, he'd encountered only a kind of rundown rusticity. Couches and chairs didn't look much different than the faded department-store variety in the shared house where he'd been living, the dull hardwood floors hadn't been polished in decades, and his bed upstairs was so old that its creaking had occasionally interrupted his sleep. In the kitchen, he shouted, "Hellooooo!" and went to the window. The sun flashed between the distant islands and anchored sailboats of Albans Bay, and staring down at the pale crescent of Parson's Beach, Nathan saw for the first time what he would see repeatedly that summer: wealthy New England parents and their children, relaxing on unfolded chairsand blankets, with the sound of silvery laughter filling the air. Nathan thought, Sweet Jesus, it exists, the scene I've been seeing in Lands' End catalogs all my life. As he stepped onto the porch, the screen door slapped behind him and he cupped his hand above his eyes. Besides the few clusters of families, a man in a fishing hat was walking his dachshund, but that was all.
Backtracking through the house and upstairs, Nathan peered into the three extra bedrooms, where white sheets were still draped over much of the furniture. He called her name but heard only distant voices on the beach and the barking of a neighbor's dog. In his bedroom, he pulled on his shoes then wandered back down to the kitchen. He opened the door to the cellar and peered into the musty shadows.
With a sigh, Nathan tramped down the stairs. A dust-smeared window let in only a cloudy beam of light at the back of the room, and although a lightbulb dangled from an old, fraying cord, Nathan was too afraid of electrocution to touch it. In a near corner lay bags of mulch that the yardman must have recently purchased, but near the back wall, old paint cans, bags of cement, and wooden lobster cages looked as if they had been moldering down there for decades. As Nathan turned, a spiderweb pulled gently across his forehead and he scrambled back up the staircase like a smothered man desperate for air.
In the living room, he stood staring out the French doors that led onto the porch and offered a view of the harbor. Was she down on Parson's Beach, somewhere he couldn't see? The back lawn sloped steeply toward the water, and Nathan took long, purposeful strides, stopping once to survey the grounds, before continuing down to the shore. He nodded and smiled at the parents who watched him as he weaved in between the massive rocks.
"Did you lose something?" asked a man, squinting through sunglasses, his children laboring in the sand beside him. Nathan had recently attended college, but looked younger, and he suspected the older man was trying to find out if he was trespassing.
Nathan didn't look at him long, not wanting to satisfy him. "I just lost my watch."
"You want some help?"
"No. Thank you, though. I don't want to bother you."
"It's no bother."
The father set his book down on his chair, and Nathan wasted several minutes walking back and forth over a stretch of sand that was the one place on earth he now knew Ellen was not.
"Are you visiting someone here?" The man had a long, patrician face and unnaturally white teeth.
Nathan admitted, "I'm kind of helping out for Ellen Broderick this summer."
"Is that right? So she made it back. Well, good for her. She's doing okay?"
There was more in the man's question than a casual inquiry. But, distracted, Nathan answered, "Yeah, she seems like she's doing all right."
When he hastened back to the house, and entered the kitchen, he patted the pockets of his shorts and felt the car keys against his thigh. There was no reason for him to be worried, he thought. She had seemed in good health around him, if a little quiet, and it was her first morning back in her summer home, so she had probably gone next door to visit friends. Nathan made a piece of toast and ate it as he walked around the first floor, sipping orange juice, occasionally glancing out windows. He decided to retrieve from the car the bag of art books and comics he'd brought with him from home. Outside, in the warmth of the sun, he was crossing the well-manicured lawn toward the driveway when he noticed Ellen. She was sitting in the passenger seat of her maroon Volkswagen Passat. Her head was resting against the closed window, and although she was only seventy-two, according to his father, Nathan immediately feared the worst while hurrying toward her. Her once petite frame, now slackened into a huskier solidity, sat slumped in its seat, but her face still held the high cheekbones of a once classically beautiful woman. Her eyes were closed, her lips barely parted, and Nathan's heart pulsed in his ears as he rapped hard on the glass. Ellen's head jerked from the window, her blue eyes wide.
Nathan waited to see if her heart would fail, then opened the door. "My God, I'm sorry, are you all right?"
Clearing her throat and blinking, Ellen's eyes narrowed in recognition. "I suppose so," she answered. She wore a blue, calf-length dress, and an unbuttoned white cardigan that nearly matched the hair, pulled into a bun, which rested against the base of her neck. Pushing a loose strand from her face, she sighed and looked Nathan over. In addition to the same pair of shorts he'd worn to pick her up from the airport the previous evening, Nathan was wearing old running shoes, a wrinkled T-shirt, and his hair, still uncombed, looked as if someone had rubbed it vigorously with a balloon.
Excerpted from Summer People by Brian Groh Copyright © 2007 by Brian Groh. Excerpted by permission.
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