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THE SUMMER PLACE includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jennifer Weiner
. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
From “the undisputed boss of the beach read” (The New York Times
), The Summer Place
is a testament to family in all its messy glory; it is a story about what we sacrifice and how we forgive. Enthralling, witty, bighearted, and sharply observed, this is Jennifer Weiner’s love letter to the Outer Cape and the power of home, the way our lives are enriched by the people we call family, and the endless ways love can surprise us.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The novel includes very different mother-daughter relationships: Veronica and Sarah, Sarah and Ruby, Annette and Ruby. How are their relationships similar and how are they different? What do you think of Annette’s rejection of motherhood? How did it affect Sarah to become a stepmother to Ruby at such a young age? Why do you think Veronica has such a different relationship with Sarah, her daughter, compared to Sam, her son? Are there “right” and “wrong” ways to be a mother?
2. The relationship between Eli Danhauser and his first wife, Annette, was cut short when she left him and their young child, Ruby. Were you shocked by her rejection of motherhood? Did she redeem herself to Ruby at the end? How was this balanced by the stepparent relationship between Ruby and Sarah?
3. This story includes many secrets, some of which are revealed by the end and some of which are not. Do you think the characters make the right choices about which secrets to keep and which to reveal? Is there a right way to share a secret that will change someone’s life? Is honesty always the best policy? How do different backgrounds—such as between generations, or between women and men—affect the decisions made by different characters about their secrets?
4. After we hear the story of Sarah’s friend Marni, she thinks to herself that the story is a warning, “End your marriage and you and your children will suffer” (page 127). Do you think this is a common feeling among married women thinking about separation? How about among married men? Discuss the difference.
5. All three women in the Weinberg/Danhauser family have built professional lives around their creative interests: Veronica is a writer, Sarah is a musician, Ruby works in the theater. Both Veronica and Sarah must make choices and sacrifices as they balance their creative lives with their professional and family lives. How do their stories reflect the unique pressures on women who have creative or artistic interests? How do their dreams change as they get older and move into different stages of their lives? Do you think Ruby will eventually make similar choices to those made by Sarah and Veronica, or will she take a different path?
6. After growing up extremely close to his sister, Sam moves across the country for college and ends up staying after graduation. Do you think he felt like he needed to move so he could separate himself from his twin? What did you think of their dynamic?
7. Discuss Sam’s journey of sexual discovery after his traumatic experience of becoming a young widower. What was the importance of fanfiction and online dating? In what ways do you think anonymity both was beneficial and detrimental to him?
8. In the Cape Cod community where the events ofThe Summer Place
unfold, there is a distinction, sometimes tense, between the “pond people,” the families (like Owen’s) who have owned vacation homes in the area for generations, and newer homeowners like Veronica and her family. How do the socioeconomic and cultural differences between these groups influence the events of the novel? Do you have any sympathy for the “pond people”?
9. It is revealed that the completed novels that Veronica left behind are based on Sarah’s life, but Sarah decides to have them published anyway. What do you think of her decision? Would you have been angry with Veronica? What did you think of her explanation, “that’s what writers do”?
10. After Eli confesses to Sarah his own duplicity, she decides not to come clean about her dalliance with Owen. Why not? Do you think she made the right choice not to tell him? Do you think he would have forgiven her? What did you think about Sarah’s relationship with Owen? Was he taking advantage of her when they met later in life?
11. At the end of the book, Rosa tells Gabe the full truth about his paternity and her ruse involving Eli. She even introduces him to his father. How would you have reacted to the news? Would you have forgiven Rosa for her lie?
12. Were you happy that they decided not to sell the family home in the end? Do you think it was important to keep it in the family? Enhance Your Book Club
1. In this book, the walls actually talk. Try to imagine what the walls of your childhood home might say about you and your family.
2. The author was inspired by elements of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
in the writing of this book. In that play, there are missed love connections, love triangles, and even some magic. Read the play or even watch an adaptation with your book group to find the parallels in the stories.
3. Let the Cape Cod setting inspire you! Serve lobster roll sandwiches with crunchy kettle-cooked potato chips. Try out a Cape Cod Cocktail: mix 2 ounces of vodka and 3 ounces of cranberry juice with ice and serve with a lime wedge for garnish. Swap out the vodka for seltzer water for a nonalcoholic alternative.
4. Be sure to keep up with author Jennifer Weiner by visiting JenniferWeiner.com.A Conversation with Jennifer WeinerYour books always have a fierce, complex woman at the heart of them. Discuss what it was like to write this trio of interesting women who span three generations.
I wrote this book at a difficult time in my life. Last spring, the day before my older daughter turned eighteen, my mom died (on Mother’s Day!). My mom was wonderful. She gave me so many gifts, including a love of reading and a level of comfort in my own skin that I wish every girl and woman could have grown up with. Losing a mom when you’re in your fifties isn’t a tragedy, but my mother’s own mother, my Nana, lived to be 101, which meant my mom had her mother until she was in her seventies. When my mom died, not only did I feel very sad, I also felt a little cheated. I’d hoped I’d have her for many years to come, and that my daughters would, too.
My mother died in May. Then, in August, I dropped my daughter off at college in New York City. That was another nontragic loss, because kids grow up and move out. You give them roots, and you give them wings, as the saying goes, and then you watch them leave you.
Those two losses made me realize that the torch had been passed, and that I was now the matriarch of my family. It made me think about mothers and daughters and the passage of time. As my own first reader, I wanted to write a fun, diverting, juicy book that would keep me entertained and give me some respite from my real life, but I knew it was also going to end up being a story about mothers and daughters and grandmothers and granddaughters; about growing up and letting go of the places and the people we love.Your characters wear masks and discuss other safety measures, such as quarantine and COVID testing. What was it like to write a book that portrays the pandemic as you were living through it?
If you’re writing a book set in the here and now, the COVID of it all presents a challenge. You either have to create an alternate version of history where everything’s the same but COVID isn’t present, or you have to somehow engage with a pandemic that’s been tragic and disruptive while also feeling endless and tedious. I didn’t want to write a book that was all about COVID, but I was also really interested in what COVID was doing to romantic relationships, to existing marriages, to families . . . to pretty much everything. I’d read a lot about people who’d just started dating and moved in together when the first quarantines began, and I absolutely wanted to explore what hitting the fast-forward button like that could do to a new relationship. Similarly, I think that COVID lay bare the ways that women were bearing the burden of a household’s emotional labor, all of the invisible things that help a family function. I knew what it was like for me when my house suddenly turned into my husband’s office, my kids’ school, a 24-hour diner/laundry/therapist’s office, and I wanted to write about that, too.You have a sentient house in this book. How did you get into the “mind” of a family home?
Honestly, I think getting into the mind of a house was easier than getting into the minds of some of the male characters I’ve written!
Architects and interior designers talk about houses with bones and a house’s character; houses where you walk inside and immediately have a sense of the people who live there. Between bones and character, you’re already halfway to a person! I’ve also always been struck by the idea that, on a molecular level, houses contain the echoes of every conversation held inside of them, the scents of every meal prepared. It didn’t seem to be too far of a leap to imagine a house that not only holds all that history but also has feelings about it. I imagined the house as a protector, the keeper of the family’s memories, an entity that knows them intimately and wants what’s best for them. Once I had that identity established, writing the specifics wasn’t that hard.In this book, you explore parenting from many angles. There are stepparents, single parents, and even a rejection of the experience entirely. What do you want readers to take away from the book about the expectations of parenting?
I’ve always been interested in the idea of found families, or how you can make your own family, and it’s not necessarily going to include all (or any of) the people who are biologically related to you. I also wanted to celebrate stepparents and the difficult role they have to play. The fairy tales and Disney films might cast them as the villains, but I think that stepparents can have a really lovely, supportive role in a child’s life. Like Sarah says, a stepmother or stepfather can be a bonus adult in a kid’s life, another person who can provide stability and support. Or, in more dire cases (poor Connor!), a stepparent can be all the stability and support a kid has. I wanted to write a realistic story, not a fairy tale where a stepdaughter instantly and permanently loves her stepmother, or a stepson doesn’t have to work through feelings of abandonment and sorrow, but where the relationship takes time and effort on both sides. Most of all, I wanted to show the importance of kids getting love and support and stability from the adults who are around and available to give it to them. I want readers to come away knowing that they have the power to be that stable, loving person in a child’s life, even if they don’t have the official title of Mom or Dad.We are truly transported to Cape Cod in the book. What do you find so inspiring about that setting?
The Outer Cape has always been one of my favorite places. It’s the place I went on summer vacations with my family when I was a child, the place where I took my own kids. It was also one of my mother’s favorite places. She loved to swim, in the ocean and the bay and the freshwater kettle ponds. She loved to ride her bike, and to walk around Provincetown, which is one of the most vibrant, colorful, eclectic towns in the world. I have so many wonderful memories of the time I’ve spent there . . . and, in the midst of the pandemic, there were so many moments when I wished I was there: that it was summer, and I could feel the sand under my feet and smell the salt water and hear the wind rustling the reeds. I think so many of us needed (or still need) an escape from the world, and if The Summer Place
gives readers a little bit of that escape and a sense of what it feels like to be in this beautiful, wild, unspoiled place, that makes me very happy as an author.You pull themes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream into The Summer Place. Talk about the ways that the play inspired you in telling this story.
I love the idea of enchantment—about people taken out of their familiar surroundings, shipwrecked on an island or lost in a forest, where there are supernatural forces that work to bring lovers together. I love the tropes: Forbidden love! Love triangles! Love potions! And, of course, I love a happy ending.
I’ve also felt—correctly or not—like the last two years have been sort of like an enchantment (not necessarily a good one!). We’ve all been pulled out of our familiar lives and “shipwrecked” somewhere else. There are supernatural forces at work, or at least invisible ones, in the form of an ever-mutating virus. We’ve all started off one place and ended somewhere else, whether it’s a happy ending or not.
And, of course, books are their own kind of enchantment. They have their own way of taking us out of the familiar and setting us down somewhere else, where a bunch of actors or players or fairies say, “Let us tell you a story.” You bring your own imagination to the table; you work in concert with the storytellers to imagine the setting and the characters, even as you understand that someone else is dictating the action and bringing everything to what’s hopefully a satisfying conclusion.
Storytelling is the most human kind of magic. It’s maybe even the only magic we have. And to me it feels like that particular kind of magic has never been more necessary.Veronica Levy is a novelist who pulls back from publishing for a long time. Is it strange to write as a character who is a novelist like yourself? Are there similarities that you share with her?
This isn’t the first time I’ve written a character who is a successful novelist whose career goes in a different direction than mine has. Midcareer is an interesting place to be—you’re not the ingenue, not the hot young thing, not any big tastemaker’s delightful new discovery. I’ve always tried to push myself, to make each book better than, and different from, the one before it. With the Cape Cod trilogy, I’ve tried to play with the idea of a “beach book,” using the elements of the label that appeal to me (the seductive seaside setting, the idea of romance and happy endings) while pushing the boundaries of the genre. But I think every writer is interested in the road not taken and uses characters to explore directions in which her own life hasn’t gone.
With Veronica, I wanted her to make what I regard as the ultimate sacrifice. She’s disappointed in herself. She doesn’t like the person she’s become in success. She wants to make amends. And so she gives up her art, or at least the public expression of her art (it was hard enough to make her give up publishing, and I think that asking a writer not to write is akin to asking her to cut off a limb!). It’s a huge sacrifice, but I think a lot of women who become mothers usually do give up something, whether it’s in the personal or the professional sphere. I think that Ronnie’s story is a version of many women’s stories when what they want in the professional world bumps up against marriage and motherhood, and something’s got to give. It’s my hope that this book will occasion some interesting conversations about how women still seem to have to pick one or the other—being the best mother or excelling at work—while men seem to more easily be able to do both.