Hundred Summers (Williams)

A Hundred Summers
Beatriz Williams, 2013
Penguin Group USA
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780425270035

Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak.

That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.

Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily's friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction...and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.

Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1971-72
Raised—Seattle, Washington, USA
Education—B.A., Stanford University; M.B.A., Columbia University
Currently—lives in Greenwich, Connecticut

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons.

She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
[A] fast-paced love story…the scorching sun illuminates a friend’s betrayal and reignites a romance.
Oprah Magazine

Summer of 1938: A scandalous love triangle and a famous hurricane converge in a New England beach community. Add in a betrayal between friends, a marriage for money, and a Yankee pitcher, and it’s a perfect storm.
Good Houskeeping

Born into post-Depression New York society, innocent, steadfast Lily Dane and fast, jazzy Budgie Byrne are best friends. It’s through Budgie that Lily meets Nicholson Greenwald, handsome, smart, charming.... Only now ex-fiance Nick and ex-bestie Budgie are Mr. and Mrs. Nick Greenwald..... When the great New England hurricane of 1938 makes landfall near the end, it feels less like a natural disaster and more like a convenient way to get the most problematic characters out of the way so true love can prevail.
Publishers Weekly

While Williams's new novel starts strongly, it becomes a bit mired in melodrama in the latter third. Lily makes for an appealing protagonist.... The problem is that only Lily and Nick are fleshed out as characters.... The lack of development of the supporting cast weakens the eventual exploration of just what happened. —Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI
Library Journal

Williams' sweeping saga of betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption trenchantly examines the often duplicitous nature of female friendships and family friendships.

[T]he period story of a derailed love affair seen through a sequence of summers spent at Seaview, R.I.... "What went wrong?" between Lily Dane and good-looking-but-Jewish Nick Greenwald,...[and] how, seven years on, can Nick be married to Lily's BFF Budgie Byrne while Lily herself is single and accompanied by her 6-year-old sister, Kiki? The answer is teased out at length via parallel narratives set in 1931 and 1938, both voiced by Lily.... An elegant if somewhat old-fashioned delayed-gratification seaside romance with a flavor of Daphne du Maurier.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The main narrative of A Hundred Summers takes place in an old­money enclave in Rhode Island during the summer of the great New England hurricane of 1938. Why do you think the author chose this setting? What kind of changes were taking place in American society at the time, and how did those influence the plot and characters? What role do think the storm played, both as a dramatic device and to convey the novel’s themes?

2. What did you think of Lily Dane? How do you think she developed as a character during the course of the novel? Did you find her essential innocence a strength or a weakness? How did her thoughts and actions in Seaview compare to her thoughts and actions in the other settings?

3. The friendship between Lily and Budgie forms the backbone of the novel, both in 1931 and in 1938. What did you think of the dynamic between the two women? How did it change and develop in the course of the narrative? Was Lily right to accept Budgie’s overture of friendship after her marriage to Nick? Would you call this a toxic relationship? Who do you think needed the other the most?

4. What do you think motivates Budgie? Do you consider her a bad person or only a troubled one? Do you think she really cares for Lily? Did the author convey her character effectively, or was she too ambiguous? How do you see her in the context of the historical period, and the changing status of women in the 1920s and 1930s?

5. Nick Greenwald appears in both 1931 and 1938 as the love interest for both women. How did Nick change between his college years and adulthood? Why do you think he married Budgie? Would you be able for forgive him for this decision, and for his activities in Paris in the years between?

6. Nick’s Jewish heritage is presented as a barrier to social acceptance among Lily’s family and social connections. Do you think this accurately represents the attitudes of that time and society? How do you think the perception of Jews in America compared to the position in Europe, and how would Nick’s attitude to antisemitism have been affected by the prolonged periods he spent overseas? How did Nick’s ambiguous status—Jewish father, Episcopalian mother—affect his self-­perception and his actions in the novel?

7. What did you think of Graham Pendleton? Did he really love Lily? What do you think both Budgie and Graham were looking for in their relationships with Lily? Would Graham have been able to reform if he married Lily?

8. Until the end of the book, Lily’s mother remains offscreen, or viewed from a distance. Why do you think the author chose to keep her veiled and ambiguous? What did you think of her? How do you think Lily’s character was influenced by her relationship with her mother? If your partner underwent the same kind of trauma as Lily’s father did in the First World War, how might the terms of your marriage change over time?

9. Did the novel conclude too conveniently for you, or did the fates of the various characters make sense given their actions and propensities? Do you think events like hurricanes happen “for a reason”, or are they “random and senseless”? Have you experienced a devastating storm, or an unexpected tragedy? How did it affect you and/or your family and community, both short and long term?

10. Re­read the poem at the beginning of the novel. What do you think it means? How does it relate to the narrative and theme of A Hundred Summers? What’s the message you take away from reading the book?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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