Although I haven't made one in a few years I frequently like to make a list of beach books--my lists have a little twist to them as they aren't meant necessarily to be books you can read at the beach but stories that have a strong seaside element in their setting. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams gets an automatic 'go to the top of the list' award and has the added bonus of being not only a perfect beach read but a perfect story with an enviable seaside setting. It has all the elements I love--interesting characters with the main characters being quite likable (most of the main characters that is), a plot that moves with along at a nice clip, well written with a most perfect setting, a good drama and at its heart a love story. I could imagine myself there as I was reading. Sand between my toes, sunshine in my face, morning dips in the ocean. Pure and perfect escapist reading, but all nicely done, too.
There is one set of characters with two parallel stories running in tandem. There is the here and now of Seaview, Rhode Island 1938 where Lily Dane and her family have been summering for as long as she can remember, and 1931 Dartmouth and New York City where Lily is a college student inseparable from her best friend Budgie. Lily is pretty and smart and just a tad more serious than Budgie who is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants whirlwind. Budgie is beautiful and vivacious and a little fearless, too. She's the sort of girl who attracts the star football player and isn't afraid to live it up. Lily has a quiet wild side that only occasionally surfaces, more of a 'good girl' who might be convinced to do something out of character but thinks twice about it first.
It's through Budgie and her beau Graham Pendleton that Lily meets Nick Greenwald. Graham is as handsome as his name implies, but Lily has eyes only for Nick when she first sees him on the football field. Tall and dark with curly hair and intense eyes she falls for him at first sight. The story opens with their first meeting as Budgie cheers on Graham, no second glance at Nick who is tackled and injured. But he meets Lily and the two click and all seems right with the world. The only hurdle in their way is the fact that Nick is Jewish and Lily isn't and neither family seems particularly pleased by the match.
Fast forward seven years and Lily is returning once more to Seaview with her mother and younger sister, Kiki, who seems more like her own daughter than a sister. As a matter of fact it's questionable whether Kiki really is only her sister as the two are together more often than not. And then there Budgie, who is also returning to Seaview with her new husband, Nick Greenwald. The same Nick that Lily shared what appeared to be a passionate romance with years before. She is coming to open up her family's home to ready it for her new married life--only the best of the best, but it's all scandalous and the families of Seaview close ranks around Lily knowing something of their past together. Seaview is a respite and happy place for Lily Dane, but she does wonder what the draw is for Budgie. The two girls grew up and spent their summers together at Seaview, but there is more at play between the two than what is on the surface. Seaview is a town that has seen more prosperous days. It may be a familiar and comforting place to return to for some, but not everyone and is less of a draw for the young.
"For whatever reason, my generation hadn't taken up in our parents' houses in Seaview, as everyone generation past, filling the narrow lanes and tennis courts with screaming young children and moody teenagers, with sailboats racing across the cove and Fourth of July floats festooned in contraband impatiens. I could understand why. The things that attracted me back to Seaview every summer--its old-fashionedness, its never-changingness, its wicker furniture and the smell of salt water soaked into its upholstery--were the very things that turned away everyone else. You couldn't satisfy your craving for slickness and glamour and high living here at the Seaview Club. During Prohibition, the liquor had been replaced by lemonade and now that gin and tonic were back in their rightful places, the young people had moved on."
Except Lily Dane.
The two threads of the story, of course, will eventually converge with perhaps a surprise or two along the way and plenty of pacy drama culminating in one sultry summer where passions flare and the stormy, tumultuous lives of the characters is matched by a perfect storm that will come crashing down on Seaview. I thought the plot would follow a predictable arc and it more or less did, but Williams had a card or two still up her sleeve. It was for me quite a satisfying read, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As a matter of fact I had to then have all her other books (save for the newest just out and only in hardcover) and Overseas (her first novel) now sits next to my bed ready to find its way into my bookbag. Perhaps it will be my Fourth of July treat! On to my list of (hopefully) reliably good, favorite comfort reads goes Beatriz Williams.