Summer People by Julie Cohen: An emotion-packed drama – book review –
But her arrival sets the small Unity Island community alight with gossip, and the sunshine getaway holiday that was intended to be the couple’s ‘new beginning’ instead unearths long-buried secrets and sparks a storm greater than Vee could ever have imagined.
Julie Cohen, who grew up in the western mountains of Maine, sweeps us away to her home territory for a captivating and seductive read full of the exquisitely wrought character studies that have turned the former English teacher into an award-winning novelist with over a million copies of her books sold worldwide.
And in Summer People – a reference to the wealthy sun-seekers who come to come to the picturesque island for the summer months – Cohen, who is also a founder of the RNA Rainbow Chapter for LGBTQ+ authors, brings us an emotion-packed drama with an alluring sapphic romance at its heart.
The last time Vee Ellis sailed away from the shores of Unity Island, she thought she had left forever. For various reasons, her childhood wasn’t the best but now she’s a high-flying attorney and married to handsome, charming Mike who was born into wealth and is ‘the picture of easy privilege.’
The luxury island holiday is a ‘second honeymoon’ for Vee and Mike because their marriage has been reduced to little more than ‘trading verbal ripostes.’ And if they stopped doing that, Vee worries that they would have nothing left to talk about.
But Vee’s unexpected arrival, this time as one of the wealthy ‘summer people,’ soon has tongues wagging and her childhood best friend, Sterling Ames – whose family has run the island’s store through the generations and who has Unity ‘in his blood’– is furious that she has come back because Vee abandoned him when he needed her most.
And then Vee meets Sterling’s wife Rachel, whose marriage has faltered over what Sterling believes is her failure to understand the community’s rules about sticking together. Vee feels Rachel’s gaze ‘like a punch in the chest’ and a flame of passion is ignited within her that she can’t extinguish.
And as the hot summer turns to autumn, long-buried secrets and hidden ambitions emerge that will determine who will sail away with the tide… and who will choose to stay behind on the island.
The battle between duty and desire is the driving force for this clever and compelling tale which tackles emotive topics like marital conflict, the corrosive effect of lies, and forbidden love with the power and authenticity we have come to expect from this masterful storyteller.
Written from the alternating perspectives of the four lead players, Cohen immerses her readers in their despairs and desires, frustrations and fears, and the secrets and lies that have impacted on their friendships and loves over the years.
But Unity Island itself also plays a star role as the claustrophobia and constraints of living in a small, tight-knit community – where newcomers are regarded with suspicion as ‘outsiders’ – are explored with a sharp and observant eye.
And the island that glitters in the sun will act a catalyst for the two troubled couples as they finally face up to the hurdles that have hampered their happiness and their marriages, and embark on a journey of self-discovery full of life-changing surprises.
Compelling, intriguing and packed with Cohen’s word power and wisdom, Summer People is the perfect read for your own holiday escape.
(Orion, hardback, £16.99)