Publication Date: May 2017
Review, short version: Three skunks out of a possible four.
Michelle Gable’s latest offering, The Book of Summer, involves three central characters:
Bess, 33, a soon-to-be-divorced Emergency Department doctor who, if you have to go to the ER, you do not want her walking into your cubicle;
Cissy, 65, Bess’ mother, who utilizes the mantle of eccentricity to excuse selfish behavior and an extremely foul mouth;
Ruby, Cissy’s mother, dead though very present, demonstrating repeatedly that if she were any shallower, she’d be a dry spot.
Cissy lives in a crumbling old family home, Cliff House, aptly named as it’s perched on a Nantucket bluff overlooking the Atlantic. The house and the bluff are about to fall into the ocean, and Cissy is determined to save both. Bess is asked by her father to save Cissy. Now, Bess lives in San Francisco, while her father lives not far from Cissy, but apparently he’s too busy making money to rescue his wife.
Cissy arrives at the Nantucket airport to pick up Bess – on a bike. This is our introduction to Cissy, and our first inkling that Cissy is several dimes short of a dollar. Their neighbor, a guy named Chappy, arrives on scene and offers them a ride, and here is our first inkling that the author, Gable, is also missing some currency. On page 10, during the drive, Cissy “keeps emitting small burps, as if she might be sick.”
Cissy isn’t physically sick, there’s no further mention of this, so how did the “small burps” further advance the story?
Currency isn’t the only attribute Gable is missing; though a native Californian, she’s egregiously lacking in knowledge of the vernacular of San Francisco, twice referring to Beth’s home as “back in the Bay” (pages 151 and 184). As a longtime resident I can assure you that no one – not even the most ignorant tourist – ever refers to San Francisco as “the Bay.” It’s called “The City.” You might even call it “Frisco.” But “the Bay”?
Gable also lacks a basic knowledge of motor vehicles, referring to Chappy’s transportation mode as a “wood-paneled truck” on page eight, then as a “car” on page 10, then it’s back to “truck” on page 11.
Did an editor have a crack at this book before its publication?
Not to suggest Gable is lacking in her command of vocabulary, particularly active verbs. Instead of simply writing “Bess said,” Gable hits us with a barrage of them:
“Ha!” Bess yaps. (Page 49)
“What the hell?” she squawks. (Page 53)
“What happened after that?” Bess sputters. (Page 61)
“I know what you’re thinking!” she chirps. (Page 62)
“Gimme a break!” Bess chirps. (Again) (Page 181)
“It’s not like that with Evan,” Bess prattles on. (Page 182)
We get a bit of a break from Bess and her active verbs, and then:
“Whaaaat?” Bess grumble-moans. (Page 378)
“Coming,” Bess gripes. (Page 378)
“Hold on, let me get my shoes,” she mumbles. (Page 380)
Does Bess ever just speak?
And speaking of active verbs, on page 338 we encounter Bess “jumping up and down, literally hopping mad.” Remember that Bess is a supposedly mature graduate of medical school, responsible for life-and-death decisions in an Emergency Room. Scary thought, isn’t it?
Gable handles a number of topical issues – the environment, gays in the military, and aging, the latter particularly badly. It turns out that Cissy, whom you’ll remember is 65, is having an affair with her contemporary, Chappy. According to Bess (page 309), “Indeed they are both too old for this shit.” In case we missed Bess’ attitude, on page 324 she reminds us, “This is about Cissy and Chappy and their AARP love affair.”
When Bess reveals to Cissy that she is pregnant and considered an abortion, Cissy’s negative reaction surprises Bess, since Cissy is “a registered Democrat, politically obligated to be okay with this sort of thing.”
And not just stereotyping; Gable is equally adept at clichés. One is Bess’ marriage, because of course while Bess is a saint, her soon-to-be ex is unkind, stupid, vicious, verbally abusive, patronizes prostitutes, and probably kicks small animals. All of this came as a great surprise to Bess.
More clichés: Shortly after Bess arrives at Cliff House, she encounters her high school flame, Evan, who is kind, smart, handsome, hunky, loves small animals and is a volunteer coach for kids’ sports. The sparks are rekindled – there’s a new approach – Beth engages in a rebound relationship – another new approach – and Evan declares he was, is, and always will be in love with Bess.
Clearly an aberration for Evan, who otherwise actually is smart.
The book winds down with Cissy in Chappy’s arms, dancing; Beth in love with Evan, mostly; and Cliff House in the Atlantic, completely.
Sigh of relief, anyone?