A Hundred Summers
A Hundred Summers is the second novel by Beatriz Williams (the hardcover, mainstream fiction alter ego of historical romance writer Juliana Gray). It’s a compelling novel, one that builds relationships and characters and suspense with great skill.
Lily Dane was drawn to Nick Greenwald from the moment she first saw him. Her friend, Budgie Byrne, dragged Lily up to Dartmouth one fall day in 1932 so Budgie could see her boyfriend, Graham Pendleton, play football. But it wasn’t Graham, the golden boy, who caught Lily’s attention. She and Nick shared an instant connection, despite the fact that he was shunned by many for his Jewish heritage; even in the United States, it wasn’t good to be thought of as Jewish in the 1930s. Despite the fact that Lily knows her parents wouldn’t approve, they have a whirlwind courtship, until something breaks them apart.
Six years later, a lot has changed. Nick has recently married Budgie, and the two of them, Lily, and Graham all return to the Rhode Island seaside town where their families have summered for generations. Lily is the primary caregiver for Kiki, her six-year-old sister who may or may not actually be her daughter. Graham, now a Yankees player, seems to be setting aside his womanizing tendencies for Lily. But there are still many secrets, many old wounds, that have yet to surface.
The book alternates between 1932 and 1938, drawing out the story and adding intrigue in each chapter. It was suspenseful and well paced, and kept me reading far later into the night than I should have. The book is told entirely in Lily’s point of view, so the reader is limited to what Lily knows – which you realize is not very much, as the book progresses. Despite the fact that we spend the novel in Lily’s head, she seemed a bit elusive to me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that she was flat, because she wasn’t, but when lined up against the dynamic and complex characters of Budgie, Graham, and Nick, Lily’s characterization faded a bit.
Lily and Nick have the type of romance that grows very quickly – almost too quickly to be believable, except that the reader feels it alongside the characters. You feel the rush, the intensity, the confusion, and the attraction. Nick and Lily both know what they have is unusual and strange, but it feels right. In most books, I would be urging these characters to slow their roll and stop being lovesick idiots, but here, my reaction to their connection was almost visceral, so I went with it. Given the way they cleave to each other, though, their inevitable break-up in 1932 felt anticlimactic. It needed to be something huge that tore them apart, and while it was significant, it wasn’t of the magnitude I expected.
At the climax of the story is a major hurricane (an historical one, the Great Hurricane of 1938, that wreaked havoc and destruction on New England). It makes for great, if heavy-handed, atmospheric symbolism, in which the literal storm takes its justice for the emotional storm. Saying much more about it would spoil the ending, but I will say this much: while symbolic, it also felt a bit convenient.
This book reminded me of Lauren Willig’s new book, The Ashford Affair, in several ways. They are both set in the years between the World Wars (though in different decades and continents), and both have a love triangle involving two young women who care about each other, despite their differences. The protagonist is more conventional and shy, while their friend is “fast” and outgoing. It’s an interesting dynamic, and while love triangles rarely end well for all parties, in The Ashford Affair, lines are a bit blurrier than they are here. A steady diet of romance novels might make one think love fixes everything, but both of these books serve as a reminder that love can cause pain, too, and the straightforward “happily ever after” can become derailed quite easily, if you let it.
Is A Hundred Summers a DIK? Not quite, but it comes awfully close. It’s certainly a book I’ll be revisiting soon, and often. Beatriz Williams is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers.