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To the New Owners: A Martha's Vineyard Memoir Hardcover – July 4, 2017
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“[An] evocative memoir . . . Blais comes to her subject with two major advantages: She’s a deft and witty Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and her husband’s parents were well-connected powerhouses . . . To the New Owners sparkles when Blais focuses on her family’s frequently funny experiences . . . Blais pointedly showcases the simpler, more modest and, alas, rapidly disappearing old Vineyard she loves. Unfortunately, the changes she mourns are happening everywhere. Which makes records like this all the more valuable.”―Washington Post
“For anyone who has ever been curious about life on the Vineyard, or fantasized about settling in, Blais offers a diverting portrait . . . Blais has stitched together [the memoir] from the writings and stories of others, as well as her own wistful, often wry observations . . . Throughout, Blais exhibits a veteran reporter’s instinct for even-handedness.”―Boston Globe
“A bittersweet ode to a Martha’s Vineyard home . . . The chapter on formidable Vineyard doyenne and Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham is the most charming in the book, positively luminous with nostalgic affection. And the broader canvas of Vineyard life―the shops, the storms, the wry local humor―is painted with exactly the kind of skill and evocation readers would expect from the author of the bestselling In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle.”―Christian Science Monitor
“To the New Owners is a love letter to good times spent on Martha’s Vineyard . . . Friends, some of them famous, put in cameo appearances and broaden the scope of this family memoir to something akin to a cultural history. Blais is a vivacious storyteller.”―Omnivoracious
“Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Blais affectionately recounts the summers she spent since the 1970s on Martha’s Vineyard . . . Blais beautifully documents summers shared with family and friends enjoying unhurried days spent reading, visiting the quirky island towns, and basking in the natural environment . . . A bittersweet account of a wonderfully unplugged summer life.”―Publishers Weekly
“The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle (1994) pays tribute with affection and humor to [a] shabby but supremely well-located Martha’s Vineyard house . . . Keeping nostalgia in witty check, while occasionally allowing it to shape a lyrical portrait of the place, she takes the reader on a verbal tour of the island . . . Blais fills her book with sentences to savor and memories so clear they seem to become the reader’s own.”―Booklist
“A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author gives a familial face to the mystique of Martha’s Vineyard in this unfailingly charming reminiscence of summers spent on the island . . . An engaging tale . . . Much gentle humor and a certain elegiac sweetness . . . Touching.”―Kirkus Reviews
“[Blais’s] voice is intimate, loving, but the opposite of sentimental. She knows how to tell a story by letting the story tell itself . . . All of us living through Trumpworld are searching for a Martha’s Vineyard of the mind where we can get our bearings. Maddy has given us that place.”―Joseph Ellis
“Blais writes with eye, mind, and heart in equal measure. I laughed aloud, teared up at least once a chapter, and sighed with recognition throughout. Coming to the end was as bittersweet as Labor Day.”―George Howe Colt, author of The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home
“Madeleine Blais knows the secret of a superb memoir: a wry sense of humor and an honest sense of gratitude leaven the inevitable pain of To the New Owners. Anyone who has lived in a house and had to leave it will laugh and be moved by this brilliantly written book.”―Anita Shreve, author of The Stars are Fire
“What a pleasure―to be ferried to this storied island by an outsider-turned-insider, reporting so wittily and affectionately from the front lines of marriage, in-law-hood, real estate, celebrity neighbors and literary houseguests. How did To the New Owners manage to make me nostalgic for a place I hardly know? All credit to the heart, mind, and prize-winning pen of Madeleine Blais.”―Elinor Lipman, author of On Turpentine Lane and The Inn at Lake Devine
“Anything Madeleine Blais writes, I want to read, and know that I will read it with a smile. In To the New Owners she again reminds me why. This is a funny, warm and illuminating book that, like all of her work, finds the universal in the particular. It is about the meaning of place in all of our lives.”―David Maraniss, author of Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story
Praise for In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle:
A National Bestseller
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
“Beautifully written . . . a celebration of girls and athletics.”―USA Today
“Joyful . . . The reader gets a real sense of these girls and their dreams.”―New York Times Book Review
“Tender and upbeat . . . Wonderfully wry . . . A delight to read.”―Philadelphia Inquirer
“Flows like a novel . . . These basketball players show us what women can do when they work together as a team.”―Atlanta Constitution
“Engrossing . . . Better than the best pep talk, this book will kindle your pride in your own unique, feminine strength.”―New Woman
“A special book . . . Alternately funny, exciting and moving, the book should be enjoyed not only by girls and women who have played sports but also those who wanted to but let themselves be discouraged.”―Publishers Weekly
“A much-needed addition to sports writing for women . . . Extremely readable and compact . . . Compelling.”―School Library Journal
About the Author
Madeleine Blais lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Top customer reviews
In this memoir, Blais describes the lay of the land. How true MV lovers appreciate and respect their neighbors and the unwritten rules, and what happens when they don’t. I especially loved the anecdotes that she shared about frequent guests and good friend such as Phil Caputo. Caputo’s wife Linda Ware, who was editor at Consumer Reports left the best log book notes Consumer Reports style. I also adored the logs that they kept in the house, which everyone wrote in as they left. These served as memories year after year of summers spent and how time changed.
Some highlights are the visits to the great Katherine Graham’s house and hers to theirs. While the memoir might seem that it is only a look into a privileged life and that is all, it is a peek into a family who loved one another and valued the importance of being together. Of a carefree time when carving two weeks out every summer was about more than relaxing. The Katzenbach house was no mansion, in fact in the first house (which was then revamped), there was no indoor plumbing, electricity, or even a telephone. The remodel prohibited TV and wifi, and encouraged enjoying the beach, reading, card games and one another.
As the first generation grew older and unable to visit the house any longer, the second generation realized that the upkeep was no longer viable and it was best to sell the house. The book was a way of saying goodbye. Not just goodbye to the house, but the memories it held and would sustain them the future.
Ironically, perhaps it is the presence of all these high-profile people that sink the book; the name-dropping quickly becomes tedious. At one point I turned it into a game and started to count all the famous people she mentions; I stopped at 85 (Vernon Jordan, Carly Simon, Jim Belushi, Katharine "Kay" Graham, the Obamas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Princess Margaret, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, all the Kennedys in excruciating detail, etc.). At one point the author's family must reluctantly turn down a dinner invitation that includes the Kissingers. A quote from one of the author's family's "logs" or guest books: “We’ve had delightful visits and fun with the Clintons at Kay Graham’s, Jackie Onassis at her beach, and old friends at our house and around the island.” One quickly gets the point: this is where the rich, the powerful, and the well-published go to play and associate with each other.
Which leads me to the other major problem I had with "To the New Owners": the percentage of the book that is made up of quoted materials. Blais includes nearly entire chapters of entries from the cottage guest books in the mistaken belief that because they're written by such witty luminaries as Phil Caputo and a friend who writes for Consumer Reports we too will find them endlessly fascinating. This is one of those techniques where a little goes a long way. I eventually found myself skimming most of these. She also includes what appears to be an entire college application essay from one youthful visitor and pages of Ted Kennedy's Chappaquiddick defense statement, as well as long excerpts from published articles from various sources. The result feels like one of those research papers one writes in high school when one doesn't have a lot of original things to say.
And that's too bad, because this book comes most alive when Blais describes her family and their more prosaic summer rituals in her own words. That's when she touches on the universal experience of summers past, families and friends, and the places that bring them together for a time. Her prose is that of a journalist, straightforward and short on the sort of descriptive transcendence found in the two books mentioned above, but it gets the job done.
One reason it may be unfair to compare "To the New Owners" with Colt's "The Big House" is the length of time the authors spent each year at their summer houses; rather than spending entire summers at the beach house as Colt did, Blais and her family went to Martha's Vineyard for only two weeks each year. This is certainly no criticism of Blais; few among us could manage more. But while two-week holidays scattered across the years provide snapshots of summer, they cannot capture the full arc of a season or provide the depth of knowledge of a place that more comprehensive stays do. At least that's the case here.
In the end, that's what I came away with: a few snapshots of a witty, privileged family at play. There are worse ways to while away a few afternoons, but I had hoped for more.