Friday, 30 August 2013

Review: All The Summer Girls, Meg Donohue

All The Summer Girls

Meg Donohue

William Morrow, 2013

In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her fiance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa is obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, the aspiring writer who can't seem to put down a book--or a cocktail--long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired... again.

In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women being to realize how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier--and the secrets that only now threaten to surface.

All The Summer Girls reunites three female friends, now in their late-20s, for a summer weekend in Avalon, New Jersey, the site of numerous summers from their teenage and college days. All three women are at a point of near-crisis: Kate is pregnant and has just broken up with her fiance; Vanessa is a stay-at-home mum with a rich husband who has just admitted an infidelity; and Dani is living in San Francisco, broke and failing to finish her first novel.

What I enjoyed most about All The Summer Girls was the focus on the friendships between the three women, particularly the nuances of a three-way friendship and the ways in which certain situations cause different 2/1 'splits'. More generally, Donohue writes well on women-as-friends, balancing the minor, petty squabbles with bigger injustices, while recognising the bond that continues to exist between Kate, Vanessa and Dani. Although each conforms to a certain 'type', they didn't feel like caricatures on the page, and each character got their own perspective, which probably helped.

Underlying their trip to Avalon is a classic submerged tragedy, something that happened a few summers before, the last time they were all on the island together. Each of the women thinks they are responsible; each has let it eat away at her in the intervening years. This part of the plot didn't actually interest me as much as the contemporary problems they were facing, and I felt like the book was stronger when dealing with the individual dilemmas and problems of the three main characters, rather than harking back to this particular event in the past. It became clear quite early on that all of them (and, in a way, none of them) could take the blame for what happened, and the flashbacks, which revealed the truth gradually, were less interesting to me.

All The Summer Girls meanders to a conclusion before I realised I was so far through - the pace is gentle, and I feel like it could have been meatier - again, probably by focusing more on the current issues facing each of the women. Dani is adrift and wondering what to do with her life, Kate is facing single motherhood, and Vanessa is wondering whether she can ever trust her husband again (and whether she wants to). All the solutions to these problems seemed quite benign in the end - I was waiting for Dani to make some kind of radical plan, or for Vanessa to take charge of her own life, or even for Kate to agonise over whether she wanted to keep the baby or not, but none of these things really transpired. There seemed to be a lot of reaction to things, rather than action, which was disappointing when faced with three smart, capable women on the page.

Although there was a little something lacking for me, All The Summer Girls is a good summer read, and an enjoyable look at how friendships change and endure over time. Just don't expect any surprises.

Overall rating: 7/10

Book source: Received as a gift from my brother.

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