Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Summer Place (1958)

A Summer Place by Sloan Wilson begins in Pine Island, Maine, and moves midway through the story to a vacation spot in Florida. The author's focus is on the social issues surrounding sexuality and adultery during the 1930s and 50s. He describes how one family, torn apart by divorce, suffers guilt, resentment, and unresolved anger for many years. The pain the characters feel is ameliorated, though, by the fact that Ken Jorgenson's wife Helen is frigid and more interested in money than she is in her marriage, and it's a bit easier for us to forgive Sylvia for her transgression when we learn that her husband Bart Hunter is an advanced alcoholic.

The reader's allegiance, while Ken is building his financial kingdom and Sylvia awaits her punishment, goes to the children, Molly and Johnny, who in their innocence inherit the sins of their parents. They struggle throughout their teenage years amidst their family drama and eventually find their own place in the world, back home where they met on Pine Island.

I recommend this novel because …

1) the casting off of the old caretaker, Todd Hasper, with his evil dog Satan, from the island paradise, at the very end, is overwritten and cruel, but symbolic;

2) these mid-century novels all have a certain elegance of life that escapes us now;

3) and, because the author served in the Coast Guard.

Yes, Sloan Wilson gets it. 

Palm River, Florida, is full of characters who live the boating life. Yachtsmen wave as they take the inland water route down to Miami and parts south. A woman lives on a houseboat and walks her dog every night with a man who dreamed of sailing around the world but decided to settle down instead. Another man, not quite right in his head, keeps a grand piano on his motor boat and anchors out all alone in the river. Molly and Johnny bond romantically while they sail their dinghy farther and farther, eventually capsizing and in need of rescue.

For all of the books I sought out (68 Knots and Adventure on the High Sea) and for all of the books I cannot bring myself to read (Moby Dick), this is the one story that gave me in part what I was looking for … a little bit of the boating life, some glamour, and a nice conclusion. "Well done, and good luck."

1 comment:

Hariklia said...

Sounds satisfying! I think I've started Moby Dick three times - and I never get very far before giving up!