Nona Wheelwright is the almost 90 year old matriarch of the Boston Wheelwright Banking family. Several years ago she moved to Nantucket to live year round in the family’s Summer House. The family still gathers here every summer. The men, the Banking Boys, go back to town during the week as well as most of the grandchildren who have homes and careers in town. But they all try to come back for the weekends and for the major events of the summer. The first big event is the celebration of Nona’s 90th birthday. A couple of weeks later there will be the big Family Meeting.
First to arrive is her daughter Grace and her family. Next to is Nona’s son, Worth and his wife Helen. Their three children didn’t come with them. Their son Oliver is coming in later from California. They are not sure when their youngest son, Teddy, will arrive. You never know with the unpredictable and troublesome Teddy. Their daughter Charlotte is already living at the Summer House.
The story actually focuses around the lives of Nona, Helen and Charlotte. Nona, or Anne, her given name, married into the Wheelwright over sixty years earlier. In flashbacks we learn how she met and fell in love with her husband and how they survived the years of World War 2. Nona, at her age, is often tired and physically weak. Her spirit, however, is quite strong and she seldom misses a thing, although her children and grandchildren don’t know that. Nona has been harboring a secret for decades and is looking for the right time to share it.
Helen is the character most readers will sympathize with. Within the first few chapters, just as she is leaving for Nantucket, she learns that her husband Worth is having an affair. Rather than upset her family and hurt Nona’s birthday celebration, Helen keeps this information a secret. Helen has other things to worry about. Teddy is arrives just before the birthday party with a very pregnant young woman, claiming she is his wife. Helen has a deep longing for a grandchild but everyone is doubtful that the young woman is carrying Teddy’s baby.
Charlotte, Helen and Worth’s daughter, has been living at the Summer House for the past several years. She turned part of Nona’s property into an organic garden, with Nona’s permission and approval. Charlotte’s never been very successful at anything she’s tried. But, now that the garden is actually doing well and turing a profit, Grace’s side of the family is upset. They say she is taking advantage of Nona. In addition to her garden doing well this summer, Charlotte has caught the attention of two very handsome men. Through subtle hints we know that Charlotte also has a long buried secret. This summer seems to be the time for all these secrets to be revealed and by summer’s end they are.
It’s quite easy to get caught up in the lives of all the people in this book. I have only skimmed the surface of all the wonderful characters. There are so many more to meet. My only complaint about the book is that it should have had discussion questions in the back. All the differences in the three generations of women could keep a women’s book group talking for hours.
Summer House makes a wonderful book for summer reading. Although I’ve never been to Nantucket, with the author’s description, I could picture the clear blue skies, feel the cool sea breezes and the sand beneath my feet. Although I said this is a great book to read in the summer, it would also be good for a dreary winter day.
I had the opportunity to ask the author, Nancy Thayer a few questions. Please join me tomorrow for her answers.
Summer House: A Novel by Nancy Thayer, Ballantine Books, 2009