|The Summer Hideaway is the seventh installment of Susan Wiggs’ “The Lakeshore Chronicles,” a series set in the idyllic upstate New York resort town of Avalon. I have read several of these novels and find them difficult to categorize. They are romantic, but do not always follow the current canon of romance writing which insists that the love story must be front and center of the plot. Like women’s fiction, the stories deal with family problems and relationships, but there is rarely any of the angst which I associate with that genre. Or if there is angst, the reader can rest assured that everything will work out fine in the end. Whatever label we attach to these stories, the fact is that Wiggs is a gifted storyteller who has created a fantasy place to which her readers can escape for several enjoyable hours.
We met the extensive Bellamy family in the first book of the series and they have been regular characters, both primary and secondary in all of the books. Charles Bellamy and his wife Jane had run her family’s Camp Tioga in the heyday of lake resorts. A desire to spend their 50th anniversary at the then abandoned facility had brought the Bellamys back to Avalon where more than a few chose to settle.
Now another Bellamy is on his way to town, George Bellamy, renowned newsman and world traveler and Charles’ brother. Charles and George have been estranged for 55 years. Now George is dying and high on the list of things that he wishes to do before he dies is reconciling with the brother who was once his closest friend and confident. And so George plans to spend the summer at the Camp Tioga resort.
Accompanying George is Claire Turner, a nurse who specializes in hospice care. We know from the outset that Claire has chosen this career both because she is good with terminal patients, but also because of the short-term nature of such assignments. Years earlier, Claire witnessed the brutal murder of her foster brothers by their foster father, a well respected police officer. Knowing that she would be the next victim, Claire found a way to disappear and has spent all the time looking over her shoulders. She feels that a summer spent in small town Avalon might well offer as respite from her fears.
George’s far-flung family is upset with the patriarch’s decisions to forego further treatment for his cancer and to hie himself off to the wilds of upstate. They are likewise suspicious of the woman whom he hired from Craig’s List, of all places, to oversee his care. The family decides that George’s grandson, Ross, is the most likely candidate to talk sense into his grandfather’s head.
Ross has just returned from two years as a medevac pilot in Iraq. Indeed, Ross sped up his discharge when he discovered that George is fatally ill. Ross lost his father during the Gulf War and it was his grandfather who stepped in to care for the lonely boy when his flighty mother proved incapable. The bond between the two is close, so Ross is quite willing to believe the worst of Claire. Instead he discovers a capable and caring woman who is trying to make George’s last days exactly what he wants.
There are a number of different threads in The Summer Hideaway. Most familiar is the growing romance between Claire and Ross. It is well done and quite enjoyable. More unusual and interesting is the story of how the estrangement between the brothers occurred. Told in flashbacks, this aspect of the story recounts the childhood friendship between Charles, George and Jane. As the daughter of a farmer and camp owner, Jane was not the Bellamy’s social equal. George did not approve of Charles’ marrying beneath him, but clearly there is more to the story.
The third thread describes the reunion between the brothers and their rapprochement. It brings the whole Bellamy clan together for the first time. The final thread deals with George’s determination to live as fully as possible during the time left him and with his family’s sad acceptance of his loss.
Wiggs weaves these various threads together in a seamless whole which shows how the past shapes the present. She has created interesting characters and interesting circumstances. I found the scenes and situations of growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s particularly evocative. Wiggs captures both the halcyon quality of being a child during those times and the underlying dangers and problems that we who lived then have consigned to misty memory.
I generally find the responsibility for affixing a rating to a novel a daunting task (except of course when a book is very, very good or very, very bad.) Ultimately, the deciding factor between “acceptable” and “good” is the pace at which I read the story. Since I consumed The Summer Hideaway in a single day, it clearly merits four hearts. But readers should be aware that this, like all the books in “The Lakeside Chronicles,” partakes of the nature of a contemporary fairy tale.