A guide to POTSDAM
Novel set in New York and Rhode Island
30th August 2017
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams – novel set in New York and Rhode Island.
It is 1932 and beautiful, wealthy, young student Lily Dane is taken by her friend, even-more-beautiful, wealthy Budgie Byrne to see Budgie’s boyfriend, Graham Pendleton, play football at Dartmouth. There she meets handsome, charming and wealthy Nicholson Greenwald and is immediately smitten. Fortunately, he is likewise smitten by her. Unfortunately, he is also half Jewish and in the 1930s that fact rules him out as suitable boyfriend material. Lily, being the spirited, independent character she is, disregards this and the couple embark on a clandestine courtship. Planning to elope on snow-filled New Year’s Eve, they make it as far as Lake George but, before they can tie the knot, Lily’s Aunt Julie finds them and it all falls apart.
And then it is 1938 and the intervening six years have brought about a lot of changes. Lily is still living at home, spending her time looking after her little sister, Kiki. The family come to Seaview, Rhode Island, as they do every summer and Lily throws herself into the planning for the Fourth of July party, under the watchful eye of the redoubtable Mrs Hubert, who runs the community club and has the final say on everything that happens in Seaview. Into this carefully ordered society Budgie Byrne lands, except that she is no longer Budgie Byrne because she has married Nicholson Greenwald and has seemingly come to flaunt her success in Lily’s face. By way of compensation, she has brought along Graham Pendleton as a would-be-suitor for Lily.
The novel continues to alternate between past and present, cleverly juxtaposing the events from each period and gradually answering the burning question of what went wrong to prevent Lily and Nick being together and to thrust Nick into the scheming arms of Budgie. As the novel is told entirely from Lily’s perspective, the reader only realises the truth as Lily does and, since Lily is fairly naïve and gullible, sometimes we are taken in the wrong direction. This is, overall, a clever, well-paced story with a lot of exciting revelations, although the 1938 hurricane, when we finally get to it, does feel like a bit of a convenient device for tying up some loose ends.
It would be worth reading A Hundred Summers just for the setting, so evocative is it of time and place. Williams’ novel describes the Rhode Island seaside town and its 1930s society so clearly that the reader can almost feel the sand and the sea spray, hear the rattle of the ice cubes in the cocktail glasses and taste the chargrilled steaks as they are whipped off the coals. She gives us a wonderful opportunity to look in on the small society and the life that revolves around the club with all its rules and snobbishness. Mrs. Hubert is a tiny masterpiece of characterisation with some brilliant one-liners and put downs.
All in all, this is a clever, engaging read – a sheer pleasure to read from first to last.
Ellen for the TripFiction Team