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Summer Reading: A Novel Paperback – May 20, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The eighth novel from Wolitzer (The Doctor's Daughter) opens as Alyssa (Lissy) Snyder—trophy second wife, reluctant stepmom, and major dyslexic—hosts a summer book discussion group. She's hoping to catch the attention of Ardith Templeton, who initiated the group and who, with her husband Larry, commands center stage in the tony Hamptons social scene. Retired English professor Angela Graves conducts the group, assigns the readings and tries to inspire her charges to take life lessons from the likes of Jane Eyre and Madame Bovary. Lissy gamely tries to read enough pages (or search out enough online commentary) to appear prepared—but Ardith rarely shows up. Meanwhile, Lissy's husband dotes on his children and begins spending time with his first wife. First-person chapters alternate among Lissy, Angela (who picks over old regrets), and Michelle Cutty, a young local who works as Lissy's summer maid and who provides some class-based frisson. There are small pleasures, but the trio of pretty endings is too hurried (and in Lissy's case too unearned) to be satisfying. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In this intricate tale of love, loss, and redemption, Wolitzer, author most recently of The Doctor's Daughter (2006), tells the story of three women whose paths cross during a summer in the Hamptons. Lissy Snyder, an insecure second wife, is uncertain of her place in her husband's heart and feels intimidated by her stepchildren. To help cement her position in Hamptons society, Lissy decides to host a book club for other young socialites and hires an eccentric former English professor, Angela Graves, to lead the group. Angela guides her pupils through books such as Madame Bovary, inspiring both Lissy and her day girl, Michelle, to reexamine their relationships with the men in their lives. Meanwhile, Angela herself is haunted by a years-old love affair. Wolitzer's subtle analysis reveals the underlying hopes and tensions that guide each woman's daily life as she struggles to come to terms with her own choices and mistakes, led, in part, by the heroines of the books Angela has chosen. Katherine Boyle
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 267 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345485874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345485878
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,767,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a late-blooming novelist and I mostly write about domestic situations. I truly believe that what happens in bedrooms and kitchens matters as much as what happens in boardrooms and statehouses. The novel I'm writing now is somewhat of a departure; it's a psychological mystery, although family relations are at the heart of the story.

Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Beanhauer on August 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Like another reviewer, I picked up this book after a mention on NPR. I pushed through it, in the hope that it would improve at some point. It didn't.

The characters are flat, and the connections between them strained. The references to better literature are extraneous. The author hopes to show how these characters are affected by literature, but the connections are implausible. The most literate of the characters loves literature, but we are supposed to believe that she is picking up these classics again and again and finding new insights, and that she is working hard to prepare for a book club of spoiled rich women. I imagined a former college literature professor wouldn't be breaking a sweat to discuss Trollope with these vapid women. The main character is a shallow Hamptons trophy wife, who is alternately bored then suddenly inspired by Charlotte Bronte, Garcia Marquez and Flaubert. In between gossip, shoes, and temptation for affairs, she is stopping to find her life in Madame Bovary?! My favorite character was Michelle, who works as a maid, but she also is implausibly affected by literature. She's working her brains off in someone else's house, has family commitments and a busy life, but she's suddenly not only reading The Autobiography of Frida Kahlo, but drawing comparisons to her own life and spending time contemplating the lives of Mexican artists?

If the gimmick of Great Literature doesn't work, all that is left is the story. The stories of these three women are mildly interesting, worthy of maybe a page apiece. I could find a note of interest in the irredeemable regret of the older woman, and as the young maid found some backbone. The main character, Lissy, really had nothing to offer. She was a shallow character who remained shallow and unsympathetic throughout the book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By L. Young VINE VOICE on September 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's summertime in the Hamptons. Four rich, young, newly married women decide to engage a retired English professor to run a summer book club for them,and thus improve themsevles with Madame Bovary, Villette and other novels. This novel centers on three characters Lissy, rich and young who hosts the club's meetings at her gorgeous home; Michelle, surly, poor and young who is a'townie' and works for Lissy as a maid; and Angela Graves the retired professor.

The three other members of the club make minor appearances. Ardith who rarely shows is 'felt' in the novel as she is a social leader of these young rich matrons and is having an affair with a mafia conncected restraunteur in the area. This sets off daydreams and longing in the others.

Sounds rather banal doesnt it? Well it is. Angela advises her hapless students who can barely muster up the energy or interest to read the assigned novels, that literature helps one understand how to live life. Unfortunately it barely seems to have that effect on anyone in the novel. Not much discussion is given to the novels assigned, Ms. Wolitzer treats her readers as if they are as shallow as those in the book club.

This novel has the hallmarks of the vacuous women's lit genre that is out there today - restlessness, affairs, gossip, bisexuality and problems with step children. The author's writing is sophomoric, a man's day growth of stubble is described as looking like 'it had been breaded'. Another time it is described like 'a bandit's mask". Not terribly original.

Cross this off your summer reading list and read Madame Bovary instead.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By B. Ucko on August 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Summer Reading is perfect summer reading. Yes, there are implausible coincidences, but it's all in keeping with a warm, funny symphony of women, each stumbling in her own way, toward a purposeful life. As is often the case with Wolitzer, each paragraph has something delicious in it. I was so glad NOT to be reading something by someone edgy and callow.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Adray on June 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I really wanted to like this book. It's set in the Hamptons in the summer with 3 main characters. The characters don't really relate to one and other and the story line goes from bad to awful at the end. I made myself finish it but kept wanting to put it down. I'd pass on this one!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Wendy Kaplan on November 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm astonished at some of the negative reviews of this beautiful book. I could not put it down, and I found the characterizations much more in-depth and intricate than some reviewers have stated.

I'm wondering if the fact that there is lesbian content put some people off? If so, that's a shame because the book is a unique story of seemingly ordinary people who are not ordinary at all. Lissy, the beautiful young trophy wife, has had a hearbreaking childhood, losing the one person she truly loved, her nanny Eva, and carrying around her childhood guilt in her heart. She is dyslexic and feels stupid but she gamely tries hosting a book club--first to win the admiration of the town "superstar," wealthy Ardith, but also in her heart of hearts to try to improve herself. She is a lost soul with all the outward trappings of wealth and none of the happiness she wants.

Michelle, who works in Lissy's kitchen, is a complicated character, defiantly blue collar and a hopeless marshmallow within. She loves her two labradors (finely drawn and wonderful for dog lovers like me) and her boyfriend--who may or may not love her back. She envies Lissy but wouldn't want to live her life, although she is not at all sure what kind of life she WOULD want to live.

Angela is the most finely drawn character. Elderly and alone, she is the leader of the book group; an English professor with a long history of leading such groups. Lissy and the others see her as an uptight old prune, but Angela has had quite a life, almost in proportion to the novels she so cherishes. Her story is both tragic and uplifting, and she is a fascinating character.

I highly recommend this book; it is complex and different, but well worth reading.
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