The Summer Wives, Beatriz Williams, author; Kristin Kalbli, narrator
In 1930, on Winthrop Island, off the coast of CT, Bianco Madeiro and Hugh Fisher fall in love and have a secret affair. Both are in their teens. Both swear their eternal love for each other, but there is a catch, Hugh is from the upper class and is about to be married to Abigail, a young woman also from the upper crust. Bianca happens to be an orphan. She is being raised by her working class, shopkeeper aunt and uncle. Their worlds do not intersect. Bianca thinks that Hugh loves her enough to give up Abigail, but when he tells her about his impending marriage, and the way things simply are, she realizes he will jilt her. However, he loves her and wants her to remain his mistress forever. She does not tell him that she is pregnant, and instead, she makes a play for her sister Francesca’s betrothed and steals him away from her. They wed soon after, so her son will be legitimate. When he is born, she gives him her husband’s name, Vargas, not Fisher, which is his father’s name. On the night she delivers her son, her sister Francesca drowns in a tragic accident, on the way to see her. Because of what she has done to her sister, she is blamed and rejected by everyone. She and her husband Pascal Vargas, move into the lighthouse where he is the new light-keeper. He is also a lobsterman. Although she has trapped him, he loves her enough not to care at all about being isolated or rejected. After all, he, too, has betrayed her sister Francesca. He is a homely, but hard-working man. He raises Joseph as his own.
In 1951, Miranda Schuyler travels to Winthrop Island for her mother’s marriage to Hugh Fisher, at his estate called Greyfriars. He and his first wife Abigail have divorced. Miranda’s father died during WWII. He was motivated to volunteer to serve because of what was happening to works of art under Hitler’s rule, and was killed at sea. When Miranda arrives at the island, she meets her stepsister, Isobel, and they bond immediately, although Isobel is a bit of a snob who is very comfortable with her wealth and very aware of the differences between the classes. She schools Miranda in all the ways the rich are different.
One morning, while looking out the window, Miranda witnesses a near drowning. A young man jumps into the water and saves an old man. That young man was Bianca’s son, Joseph Vargas. Miranda does not know Joseph’s history, nor does she know that her mother was about to be married to the man who fathered Joseph. It has been a well kept secret. She does not know that Isobel, her stepsister, is also Joseph’s half sister.
Suddenly, after her mother returns from her honeymoon, death comes to Greyfriars. Miranda’s involvement in the tragedy causes her to be rejected by her family and the community. The people on Winthrop Island are very insular, and they close ranks against her. Isobel’s mother Abigail, however, takes Miranda to Europe to escape, where she remains for almost two decades.
In 1969, Miranda, now Miranda Thomas and a famous actress, leaves Europe and her husband. With nowhere else to hide, she returns to Winthrop Island. She had been in a terrible accident, and she was pregnant at the time. She was severely injured and lost the child in her womb. She blames her husband who was angry that night and was driving although he was quite drunk. He was abusive when his “demons” possessed him. When the reader learns that Joseph has been in prison for murder for the past 18 years and has recently escaped; the coincidence of Miranda’s return at the same time will not be lost. It seems that Joseph’s mother, is quite alone and very ill. She refuses medical treatment and also refuses to cooperate with the authorities who are searching for Joseph. None of the islanders will help them either, in fact. As Isobel states, they protect their own. They all have their secrets and have all made foolish choices for which they must repent. In this, the classes unite.
If you are looking for a beach read that is a bit mindless, a bit repetitive, but also fast moving, this is a good choice, although the dialogue can be trite sometimes, and the choices many of the characters make seem so foolish, they even defy reality. The action takes place on an island off the coast of CT, loosely based on Fishers Island, New York. It reads, kind of like a fairytale, especially at the end. Most of the characters are flawed and fairly unhappy with their lives, regardless of whether they are upper or lower class. The choices they have made have caused terrible conflicts, some of which can never be resolved happily. The rich seem to lounge around a lot, drink alcohol, and make statements as facts about the way they live that have very little moral value, but explain their shallow beliefs; meanwhile the townspeople labor on and hustle, without the luxury of leisure. They live in separate bubbles.
The times are different and sexual activity of any kind, even kissing, is viewed as forward. Morality has an entirely different meaning than it does today, when it seems like anything goes. Their secrets were well hidden without the gossipy social media informing the world about their behavior. The story jumps from 1930 to 1951 to 1969, and finally to 1970. It is sometimes difficult to tell immediately that the tale has moved on or back. Perhaps a print book would make it more obvious than the audio.