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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 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.
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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Questions for Discussion
Question: 1. Not long after he arrives in Brightonfield Cove, Nathan wonders if he should call Ellen's son, Glen, and make arrangements to escort Ellen back to Cleveland. Would this have been appropriate? Why or why not?
2. On pages 6-7, Eldwin delivers a sermon about friendship. What is the significance of this sermon to the rest of the novel?
3. On page 38, Nathan tells Leah that he believes men are haunted by past romantic relationships in a way that women are not. Do you agree? Is this belief supported by the lives we witness in the novel?
4. How does Nathan's status as hired help affect the way he is treated by the members of this community? How does their wealth influence the way Nathan perceives them?
5. Describe Nathan's relationship with his father. Why does he resent him? Does Nathan's attitude toward him change during the novel?
6. How would you characterize Nathan's relationship to his art? Does it make him happy? Why does he continually return to it?
7. On page 178, Eldwin says "Happiness is important But I think that living a virtuous life is more important." Is Eldwin living a virtuous life? In what way—if any—does this conversation influence Nathan?
8. Does Nathan fall in love in this novel? How should what we learn of his past relationship with Sophie Hurst influence our understanding of his relationship with Leah?
9. On the evening of Ellen's accident, while Nathan and Eldwin are driving home from the hospital, Nathan inquires about the basis of Eldwin's faith, and Eldwin answers with a metaphor (page 220). Does this metaphor seem useful to you? Does it make you any less likely to believe assertions about the existence or absence of God?
10. On page 255, Ralph says of Ellen that she is "just one of those people always looking for romance to save them." Is this true of Ellen? Is it true of any other characters in the novel?
11. How does Nathan change during the novel? How will his life after the summer be different?
12. At the end of the novel we learn of Nathan's frustration with the maxim: Follow your bliss. Do you agree that it's possible to be oppressed by a preoccupation with happiness? What are the alternatives?
Posted July 15, 2014
Posted May 11, 2014
Posted February 21, 2013
A thoughtful, charming, and well written novel. I'm glad I gave the book a look despite reading the reviews. Groh offers an insightful perspective and keen dialogue. I was never on the edge of my seat but I was also never bored and happily anticipated what turn Nathan's life would take next.
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Posted February 21, 2010
Posted April 28, 2009
I was expecting this book to be better than it really was. There wasnt really any character development and it had a really stupid ended. I was expecting more from the main character but by the end of the book, I was still thinking that the guy was kind of mentally challenged in more than one way! It was an interesting read but it took me forever to read it because I never really could get going.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 18, 2009
Flat awful read - main character likeable enough - other than that - the best thing about it was the book jacket - oh, those awful people who just happen to have the asset of a beach house.......................snore.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 6, 2008
I was pleasantly surprized at the quality of writing in this author's first attempt. A clever, intraspective look into the mind of a young man finding his place in life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 4, 2008
I like to read first novels by new, young writers and am often pleased at what I find. That was not the case with Brian Groh's first book. It sounded as though gallons and gallons of rum and Coke were the central theme. The characters seemed very one-dimensional. Like other reviewers I stayed with it until the bitter end and wish that I had tossed it after about 20 pages. Unless Groh is willing to attend writer's workshops, and even that may not help, I do not see this as his genre.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 23, 2007
I was very disappointed with this book. It dragged to the end. I actually forced myself to finish it just in case there was a big finish...there wasn't. I found no humor and the young man in this story does nothing but drink rum and coke after rum and coke. I do not reccomend this to anyone it is a waste of your money and/or your time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 25, 2007
Posted September 4, 2007
This book is a waste of time. The author clearly wanted to write a memoir without taking the inherent risks of the genre--telling his own story by thinly disguising it as fiction. What results is a watered-down, dull book full of stereotypes and unbelievable coincidences. Mr. Groh seems too concerned about his own reputation--particularly with the people he tries to satirize--to concern himself with basic good writing. The worst kind of first novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 11, 2007
Posted June 8, 2007
I saw this book and thought it would be a great summer read. Now that I am living in New England I thought it would spice up my time laying in the sun. It was slow in the beginning and hardly picked up throughout the book which was disappointing. If you are looking for a light book to pass the time don't bother with this one.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 22, 2007
Posted June 15, 2007
This isn't ultra-light reading but it isn't hard reading either. I loved it. I thought it was a thoughtful, funny book about what it's like to be a young person trying to find your way in a rich community and in life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 11, 2009
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Posted October 10, 2009
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Posted May 11, 2010
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