In this masterful family drama, debut novelist Peck delivers an eleven-year-old girl’s account of her beloved parents’ subtle power struggles. Immersed in the beauty of a 1956 Cape Cod summer, Lily Grainger yearns for the approval and affection of her family. As her father oversees the building of a home they can’t afford and extended family members interfere, tensions between him and Lily’s bitter mother escalate from bickering to outright tempests, much to their children’s anxiety. Across the pond, the lives of her cousin, aunt, uncle, and “another woman” vibrantly color Lily’s daily life. Amid the tumult, Hurricane Carolyn approaches the vulnerable peninsula, threatening the house construction and family harmony.
Peck acknowledges that many of the novel’s moments mimic her own life, such as summers spent on the Cape and her love of the cello. This memoir-style authenticity yields exceptionally original characters who entertain the reader with their complexity and humor, influence Lily’s choices, and set Peck’s novel above others. Vivid descriptions of Lily’s home and landscape stir yearning for a long-gone, untouched Cape Cod: “Seaweed, washed ashore by winter tides, bearded the beach.” Seemingly ordinary daily activities take on fresh interest with the backdrop of simmering family tension as the house construction progresses.
The gorgeous yet readable writing style situates the narrative squarely in the sophisticated up-market genre of literary fiction. Subtle irony infuses Lily’s point of view as she observes her feuding loved ones. Nuggets of wisdom bring the poetic style immediacy while still expressing a tween girl’s outlook: “I wondered why, when you hold your breath, your heart doesn’t stop beating.” Lily’s longing for her parents’ validation and her dawning maturity will warm hearts as much as the writing style will impress lovers of literary fiction.
Takeaway: Lush, memory-driven story of family life in mid-century Cape Cod.
Comparable Titles: Vendela Vida’s We Run the Tides, Mary Petiet’s Wash Ashore.
Production grades Cover: A- Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A Marketing copy: A
In Peck’s coming-of-age novel set in 1956, a New Jersey girl struggles with family relationships while on vacation in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Every year, Weston and Lydia Grainger take their two daughters, Lily and Dodie, to Cape Cod for a long vacation from a blistering New Jersey summer. Weston, a mild-mannered graduate student, is the opposite of his wife, Lydia, who was born the only child to a wealthy, well-established New England family that valued tradition and etiquette over family ties. This long history of excessive concern about propriety and appearances has turned Lydia into a humorless and often insensitive mother. In contrast, Weston is bright, engaged, and eager to pass on his scholarly enthusiasm to his daughters. Weston’s efforts are successful with Dodie, who’s studious and high-achieving but proud and somewhat cold like her mother. Lily, the story’s 11-year-old narrator, shares her father’s rambunctious spirit but her musical talents likely come from her mother, a born pianist. Readers first encounter the Graingers as they make their regular summer trip, but there’s one noted difference: Despite their modest means, they’re building a house across the lake from Weston’s overbearing brother George’s sprawling home. George is intent on discrediting and lording his privilege over his brother, and on embarrassing his meek wife, Fanny. The couple’s children, Nicole and Digory, each take turns bullying their cousins, with Lily getting the brunt of the abuse. This sometimes folksy, other times stressful coming-of-age story shows how personalities can clash within a family. Peck creates a lively, compelling narrative by deftly choosing to track the story’s progress as one would track an impending storm. As the summer wears on, so does a sense of impending doom surrounding Hurricane Carolyn, which provides nature’s response to the growing tension between and among the various family members, bringing the story to a fever pitch in the last few chapters: “Everyone hoped the storm would miss the Cape and blow itself out to sea. But just when we began to think we could relax, Carolyn veered.”
Readers will enjoy this tense, atmospheric family drama.