What was the inspiration behind your book? Why did you feel a need to write it?
In Summer House, Charlotte, 30, builds an organic garden business on her grandmother’s land. She loves this work, even though her family wishes she would work in the family bank. And she uses her hard manual labor as a kind of private atonement for a wrong she did to someone in her family. And she gets involved with a man who is not the man her family wants for her.
Helen, Charlotte’s mother, longs for grandchildren and tries to keep the peace when her youngest, alcoholic, son shows up after a year’s absence. Oh, yes, and she’s just discovered that her husband’s having an affair.
At the same time, Charlotte’s grandmother, Nona, remembers events during her youth in WWII and tries to decide if the time is right to reveal a profoundly important secret.
My family and friends are so precious to me, and also so mysterious. I think in all my books I’m trying to comprehend what it is that drives and connects us to those we love. Writing Summer House helped me remember how we can’t help failing those we care the most about, and how we learn to forgive them when they fail us.
What kind of research did you have to conduct to write your book?
For years I’ve pored over my father’s WWII album and listened to tales of his sojourn in Europe. Nona’s story in Summer House has been spinning in my mind for a long time. I was thrilled to be able to use some of my father’s WWII letters to my mother in Summer House.
What message are you trying to convey with this book?
I’m always fascinated by how our personal desires and proclivities lead us—and sometimes compel us—away from what we know is right, or at least safe. Away from what will make our parents or children happy. What is that little angel/gremlin within us that makes us who we are and different from our family and those we love? Can we understand ourselves? Can we forgive ourselves and those we love? I think these questions arise in long-term friendships, too.