Vanessa North’s Summer Stock is a heart-warming late spring /summer read. I must admit I had to look up the meaning of the title but it seems to be what in the UK we call a ‘Summer Season’, where a theatre puts together a company of actors to mount a couple of plays over the summer. And as happens in this novel a well-known actor is usually included to draw the crowds and boost ticket sales.
Ryan Hertzog has been in the tabloids too often for the wrong reasons and has been told by his agent to spend the summer away from the press – or get a new agent. He begs his cousin Caro to let him join the company at the seaside theatre in Bankers Shoals, North Carolina for summer stock, Shakespeare by the Sea. The theatre his cousin runs with their best friend Mason seems like a wholesome way to lie low and avoid tabloid scandal.
His plans don’t start well when a hook-up with local handyman Trey Donovan ends up with Ryan being photographed naked running from Trey’s house. I found this opening scenario very funny and it sets the tone of the novel well. Temptation continues when it turns out that Trey is the set builder for his cousin’s theatre. Mason warns Ryan off, telling him that Trey is too nice for him, but Trey and Ryan are not looking for a serious relationship and are both keen to carry on with their summer fling.
There are dark clouds in both principals’ backgrounds. Trey is recovering from panic attacks and injury caused during a very abusive domestic situation in his recent past, while Ryan is attempting to clean up his life of drugs, drink and partying, a lifestyle which has landed his best friend, Ali, in rehab. Vanessa North shows a deft hand when writing about difficult subjects and situations by recounting them in the past tense and taking care to show those involved heading for better lives. Reading a character recount the story of domestic abuse and its repercussions is emotional, but not as destructive to the reader’s psyche as experiencing it with the character in present tense.
This applies to Trey, Ryan and Ali’s stories. Summer Stock is a story that shows how lives can improve, recover and evolve. There are problems to solve and issues to confront anew but this isn’t a heavy read. This is a story of hope and redemption that accepts bad, dark events can happen in anyone’s life but shows how good and light can come from them. The front cover illustrates the feeling I got from reading Vanessa North’s story; you can feel the seaside and fresh air blowing throughout the book.
Trey is gentle and tolerant and adores his dopey, drooling dog, Ferdinand. Ryan is very different from Trey, but equally good hearted and caring when you get beneath the joking, good-time boy façade – which Trey does. Add a fun, interesting collection of secondary characters, and Summer Stock feels down to earth and recognisable despite featuring a large luxury seaside home, film stars and paparazzi. They are no different when faced with the everyday world most of us inhabit. I recommend this enjoyable read with its definite HEA.