Lines to Love: The Summer Wives


If you were with us on Monday (see post here), you’ll know that I have finished reading my way through The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. When it comes to summer, Beatriz Williams’ books are always my go-to must reads. One thing I always appreciate about Beatriz’s writing is how much importance she places on the settings where her stories take place. In A Hundred Summers, I truly felt like I lived in one of the house that lines the street on its way to the beach where a jetty leads to the lighthouse. When Budgie drove her car, or even Lily or Nick, I felt like I was seated there on the firm-springed cushions, my bottom bouncing with every bump encountered (see posts here and here).

Well, in The Summer Wives, that attention to detail is no different. As I said in my very brief review on Monday, sometimes, if I closed my eyes, I could smell the sea forever etched into the lobster cages on deck or taste the salt on my lips. Here are a few lines that conjure Winthrop Island to life- and hopefully intrigue you enough to rent/buy the book to find out just what’s going on with the characters. I’ll start with Miranda’s description of the Sound on her return to Winthrop Island in 1969:

This particular portion of Miranda’s recollection of being with her father as a child is rather poignant and thoroughly relatable:


That last line might be so beloved because I too possess memories like that where my father is concerned. While Miranda’s father read to her from Shakespeare, The Tempest to be precise, my dad read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings aloud to me— doing all the voices, no less. And, if it was a particularly find evenings when we could read outside, he would light up his pipe and blow smoke rings, too, though none so grand as those that Gandalf graced his companions with. 

The character of Joseph stands toe to toe with Nick Greenwald in A Hundred Summers. That’s saying something in my book, by the by, as I think Nick Greenwald might be one of the most perfect heroes I’ve ever read. Here Joseph, youthful and pure in heart, is consoling Miranda about her father, who died during the war when she was only eleven. While telling him that her father was a good man— the best as her tone of voice and unconcealed love betray— she questions whether he really was as good as she remembers:

No,” Joseph said. “He fought for something he believed in. That’s a hero in anyone’s book.

The introduction to Miranda’s mother comes in the modern part of the story which takes place in 1969. You meet her after life has dealt her a cruel hand. However, because you don’t know precisely what that hand is, you lack compassion for her sternness and austerity. This line, however, brought another aspect of her to me and softened my dislike of her enough to allow Beatriz to flesh her out into a full person who I came to truly love and appreciate by the end of the book: 

I hinted at this one already, but because of Miranda’s father’s love of Shakespeare, and the fact that he read it to her when she was a child, Miranda maintained a lifelong love of the Bard. In 1951, when she’s summering on Winthrop Island after her mother’s marriage to Mr. Fisher, she is implored by her new sister-in-law, Isobel, to recite something. This is the first time she really meets Joseph- a man who will leave an indelible impression on her life. Miranda recites Henry V’s Once more unto the breach… to Izzy and Joseph on the rocks of the peninsula where the lighthouse stands, and when she’s done:

And there was silence, and my original soul sank back into my skin… I felt as though I’d just stepped off some boardwalk roller coaster. Been spat back ashore by some monstrous wave. Shaken and changed, muscles stiffened from the shock of metamorphosis.

Then there’s Joseph’s reaction to her:

Outside the window, which was cracked open an inch or two, the birds sang like mad, thrilled to pieces at the beauty of the morning, and Joseph just stared at me like we were sharing a secret, and he was waiting for me to find out what it was. 

For much of the summer of 1951, Miranda feels like an outsider. She’s not from a blueblood family, even though her mother has just married into one of the wealthiest, nor does she possess that certain mingling of ennui and sophistication that comes from such money. So, this line, when she finds herself in the middle of pre-marital drama of Clay and Izzy encapsulates her emotions perfectly (I think we’ve all been here at one point or another in our lives):

I had the feeling I’d walked onto the stage of play, sometime in the middle of the second act, and assumed a leading role. And I had no script, no story. I didn’t even know the name of this play. Was probably wearing the wrong costume. 

Here’s another relatable moment from Miranda:

If I could have grown a shell, I would have, because Isobel’s skin positively radiated waves of reckless, crackling electromagnetic energy, and I knew they meant trouble for yours truly.

I really love Miranda’s description of her little brother Hugh- eighteen years her junior. Keep in mind, this a grown, married woman, taking a somewhat unbiased look at a man:

Sometimes it’s astounding, the inequitable distribution of genetic material, those fateful, chemical spirals locked in our cells, and the worst thing, or else the best thing, was that he had no idea. No conscious knowledge whatsoever that he, Hugh Fisher, had received such an unfairly vast largess of nature while the rest of us made do with less.

Then there is always the truth, delivered with bitterness and heartbreak. This one’s from Isobel:

Nobody ever says what they really mean. There is this vast fabric of tender little lies, and all the important things are left unspoken. Boiling there underneath. We only bother telling the truth when it’s too small to count.

To echo Isobel’s bitterness, and the cliquish quality of the Families of Winthrop Island, take a look at Miranda’s remarks about how those Families cope:

They don’t do rage, they don’t do passion. They drink quietly, copiously, to wash it all out of their system.

And, since we’re on this little tangent about the Families and how they don’t say what the mean, I think the insight regarding Isobel’s fiancé Clay— from one of the Families—is bang on:

He said it lightly, but I thought he meant it. Sometimes the words you say lightly are the ones you feel the most. 

And, as Beatriz is so gifted, I need to highlight one thing I appreciate about her books. While sex enters the conversation— because, well, come on, she write about life— she never confuses the difference between love and sex as is so often the case with modern love stories. Here 1951 Miranda finds herself in the throes of newfound, genuine love. Isn’t this tender?

Now, there are quite a few markers stuck in my copy of The Summer Wives, however, I will stop with that last line. I love the sweetness and purity of it. I’ll leave you with only one hint, and perhaps this is why I love The Summer Wives so much: While life metes out tragedy and pain from Miranda and Joseph on levels most of us never encounter, neither of them ever lose that childlike innocence. It’s as though they were both hewn from the same rock, carved with equal portions wonder and awe and filled with a limitless capacity to love, even those who don’t deserve it. 

If you want a satisfying read to slip into you beach bag, The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams will not disappoint.