It seems that every summer there is spate of paperbacks for light reading at the cottage that feature childhood friendships at the beach which are picked up later in life. Often they show a pair of adirondack chairs on a dock or footprints along the beach on the cover. I haven’t read too many of these but I picked one up last week and thought I would give it a whirl. It’s by Holly Chamberlin; an author I’ve not read before. (I noticed inside the front cover that one of her other books does indeed have a pair of chairs with the striped cotton backs side by side on the beach.) Any way, this book is called Summer Friends. (The lack of capitals is the publisher’s idea, not mine.) The subtitle is: Some friendships last a lifetime. . . Implied is that sometimes they don’t and in this book, you’re left wondering if this friendship will or not last right up to the end.
It’s about rich girl (Maggie) meets local poor girl (Delphine) on her summer vacation when they’re both nine years old and they form a friendship that is strongly forged and maintained over many summers at the same Atlantic seaside location and into college away from both their homes, in Boston. These early episodes are flashback chapters interspersed quite neatly in between the current ones where Maggie, unsettled in her marriage now that her girls have gone off to university in California and husband, Gregory, is often out of town on business, decides she has to find out why Delphine walked away from marriage to a grad student who was heading into a brilliant career in writing/journalism, graduate school, and, most of all, from her friendship with Maggie.
Delphine, on the other hand, deliberately walked away from all that to return to her small community to run the farm belonging to her aging parents and has settled into a relationship with an older man with whom she has nothing really in common. Worse, in Maggie’s eyes, is that this relationship is going nowhere slowly. The boyfriend, Harry, has a wife, Ellen, who has been in the hospital on life support over the ten years of their relationship whom Harry visits every week and won’t even consider divorcing her. They never go out anywhere; Harry just shows up for dinner a couple of times a week and feels free to invite people to join them at the last minute that Delphine doesn’t even know. For some reason, Delphine thinks that just maybe that’s all she deserves.
Well, I had the motives all figured out by the end of Chapter 10. It seemed quite obvious to me but . . . I was wrong! It was very close to the end of the story when I started to realize that the niece wasn’t Delphine’s child by the ex-fiance and that’s when I really started to pay attention. Why was Delphine settling, enabling others to use her and make her feel indispensable on the farm, and having absolutely no life of her own to do all the things she obviously enjoyed and wanted, like going to museums and art galleries, reading the Sunday Times, and taking a vacation once in while?
I really liked the way the characters and the relationships developed. The writing is excellent and the plot was developed carefully. I liked the quotes both characters used from favourite authors and those that were used at the beginning of Chapter 1 and the epilogue; they were very apt! I must admit I was a bit disappointed at the end because it didn’t seem to resolve the issue about why Delphine’s parents were prepared to accept what had happened, how Delphine had just abandoned her university plans and was so totally caught up in farm life in Ogunquit, Maine, why they didn’t hope for something better for her. The other thing was, I was hoping that Delphine’s dreadful neighbour and friend, Jemima, would get her comeuppance but she didn’t really. Did the friendship last forever? You’ll have to read it to find out!