The Summer Seekers
The Summer Seekers is a lovely road-trip novel that starts with violence from a woman clinging to her independence and ends with an important meeting that we – frustratingly – never get to see. In between, there are little black dresses, marriages that are healed, and white water rafting trips.
Octogenarian Kathleen is determinedly living on her own in Cornwall when a prowler breaks into her home. She bashes him unconscious with a frying pan after a brief struggle, resulting in injuries all around. This sets her daughter off about Kathleen going into a retirement home, but proud and independent Kathleen refuses to give in. Instead, she places an ad for a companion to drive her across America in hopes of reuniting with her youthful past as a nomadic and famous traveler, if only to prove that she’s not ready to be put out to pasture and can live happily alone.
Kathleen’s daughter Liza is always anxious that something will happen to her mother, but her pleas for her to move into some sort of retirement community constantly fall on deaf ears. A teacher who can only see her mother’s careless mistakes instead of her independent actions, Liza is frazzled, and her relationship with her distanced and distracted husband, Sean – which began when they were both sixteen – is slowly falling apart because she has been absorbed by the intensity of their connection to the extent that there is no individualized ‘her’ left to tend to her own desires and wants. Her twin daughters – Caitlin and Alice – are teenagers who express their independence in typical, dangerous teenage bursts of rebellion, Caitlin more aggressively than Alice, and Liza is struggling for peace of her own. She wishes both her daughters and her mother were closer to her; in trying to live a life opposing wild and free Kathleen’s, Liza’s ‘self’ has dissolved into the ether.
Martha Jackson is a recently-divorced (after only four days) twenty-five-year-old who likes books better than people. Going back to live with her parents is a humiliating change of lifestyle; she yearns for independence the same way that Kathleen does, and her parents are nitpicky, critical, and sometimes verbally abusive. Realizing she hasn’t accomplished anything with her life, Martha has vowed to jump on the next fresh option when she comes across Kathleen’s ad. Martha is not a good driver at all, but she’ll do anything to get out of her parents’ house.
The three women strike up a deal. Martha agrees to fly with Kathleen to America and then drive her from one end of Route 66 to the other in a rented Mustang soft-top. Though she intended to stay with her family over her summer break and head on a family trip to France, Liza is finally pushed to the brink when her daughters’ selfishness combines with her husband’s choice to go on a work trip during their anniversary week. She chooses to head to Cornwall to watch Kathleen’s house instead.
While Martha and Kathleen try to navigate the oddness of America and Kathleen tries to regain confidence in herself, and remembering some memorable stops from her days as a TV travel host, Liza carves out space for herself as she forces her family members to deal with their own messes – and starts to flirt with her mother’s cute neighbor, Finn. Martha and Kathleen pick up a handsome stranger named Josh who soon makes himself quite useful to Kathleen. Will Liza pick Finn or Sean? Will Kathleen’s confidence return? And will the truth that Kathleen has secretly been keeping for years finally emerge to the light?
The Summer Seekers works as women’s fiction and as a romance, though the romantic component is naturally a sidebar to the each woman’s personal growth as she moves through her vacation. What’s important is what they learn about themselves and how they can (and do) change their lives to live richer and more fulfilling ones.
My favorite among the women was definitely Martha, with her rough edges and difficult choices. But it’s impossible not to pity Liza, who is incredibly sympathetic as she struggles her way toward regaining her best self, becoming friends with her mother’s long-estranged friend, and deciding which man she truly loves. Of the three women, Martha is the most weakly drawn, but there’s also something worth rooting for in her, as she learns to let go of her husband of four days.
I wanted a little bit more color tossed onto the travelogue – certainly there could have been more interesting side-trips or places that Martha and Kathleen could have visited. But the point is the bond Josh, Martha and Kathleen form, which is solid, interesting, and rather unique. One expects it to resolve in romance, and it doesn’t. And then there’s Liza, painting and swimming and figuring out who she is. The style of the book is smooth, easy to enjoy and read and a lot of fun to dip your toes into once you get rolling with it.
The Summer Seekers is the epitome of a smooth, easy to read beach book. It might not be memorable in the long run, but it makes for a lovely and easy to like experience.