Family drama is always a fun genre to explore. It shows people of all kinds as they move through life, travel difficult patches, and in the end arrive at a different and more advanced and enhanced self of themselves. “Summer of ‘69”, tells the tale of a family that is going through such a difficult patch in life. As the different members of the family trek their way through life, taking the blows as and when they come, ducking when required, and retaliating at times too, Elin Hilderbrand shows knits the tale with the historical events of the time, showing how those affected the lives of the Levin household. Here is an honest review that will help you if you are thinking about giving the novel a shot.
The year of ’69 was a happening year in the history of the USA, but the Levin family was not far behind in those terms either. The novel shows how historical events that occurred at the time took their toll on a family living in the States at the time. It is a seemingly simple family but has its own set of buried drama that slowly dishevels itself throughout the pages of the novel.
The family spends its summer holidays in the Nantucket family home that belongs to the family matriarch, Exalta. However, the summer of ’69 is different. The family is split up, suffering and fighting their own wars- emotional and otherwise too. A lot of disturbing news starts trickling into the family’s holiday. The only son of the family gets deployed in Vietnam as a soldier. The absence of and the potential danger in which her son is placed makes Kate start drinking. She takes refuge in alcohol as a mode to evade the grim reality. She does everything in her capacity to bring her son back to a safer location but to no immediate avail.
Kate’s eldest daughter has been going through quite a crisis in her married life. She believed her husband was cheating on her. Already resentful of her husband for making her quit her job when they had gotten married, her suspicion grows by the hour and grows to the limit after which she commits a mistake herself. She seeks refuge in a former boyfriend of hers and is found in a rather compromising position by her husband with him. They have a showdown and she moves to their family home in Nantucket for the summer.
The next eldest daughter is all booked taking care of her babies. She has been through her own fair share of emotional turmoil. She has been ditched in love and had to handle it all by herself. She begs her parents to allow her to have a fresh start and is seen struggling with the same through the pages of the novel. She is determined to not let her past mistakes affect her future.
Kate’s drinking problem poses a speed breaker in her marriage as well. Her husband, David, is unwilling to visit her because she is constantly drunk. It was too much negativity for David to handle. Furthermore, David was tired of living by Exalta’s rules. He wanted a house of their own, in Nantucket itself. Kate remained skeptical of the offer.
Amidst all this family drama, the youngest daughter finds herself feel like a single child. She is in her adolescent years, a challenging time in life. With all the elders engaged elsewhere, she is left on her own a lot to figure out the new phase of life. Even though she does have her grandmother to keep her company at times, there are things that the little girl learns about herself and her surroundings and family that she needs to deal with herself. Through the pages of the novel, the readers can see her mature and figure out life in her own way.
The novel ends with a note of hope though. Kate tries to recover from her state of trauma and visits the house that her husband had selected for sale. The house is depicted as symbolic of hope and good times as things start getting brighter and clearer for the Levin family as they start the procedure of shifting into the house.
The pattern of the story is obviously challenging for a reader. The story follows the lives of various characters, all of them equally important for the progress of the novel, and all of them have their own struggles and crisis to deal with. However, the way in which the story is knitted is what steals the show.
As one reads through the pages of the novel, a beautiful picture of Nantucket is painted before their eyes. The characters become a part of the life of the reader as well. It is bound to feel like the characters have always been a part of the life of the reader. The landscapes, the cuisines, and the struggles – all start to seem so very life-like and familiar.
There are certain major drawbacks to the novel as well though. For instance, the author could have delved a bit deeper into the historical events and the plot of the story as a whole. The twists and turns might seem quite predictable at times and the plot development very superficial.
The problem might have been in choosing so many parallel plotlines for the novel. The story of the family itself has four to five different underlying plot lines. When you have so many smaller plots to handle, it is bound to become difficult to do absolute justice to the historical events. The historical events remain superficial and feel manipulated and forcefully woven into the novel.
Additionally, another thing that might bother a morally conscious reader is the fact that the characters sometimes commit pretty horrible choices. The worst part? They are not even punished duly for the same. On most occasions, they learn lessons via the pain that others feel and the mistakes that others commit. How could you learn YOUR life lessons via the life of SOMEONE ELSE?
However, if such a critical analysis of the subtler issues in the novel was not to be deployed, the story is a good read. It ends on a note of hope and it does not let the reader fall into a pit of darkness once the story ends. It portrays the life and shows that eventually hope does come to our rescue and ensures a better time ahead.
Honestly, it is not a recommended read if you like happy stories. There’s a lot going on with the characters, and sometimes the eventualities are not that lenient. However, all in all, it is an intellectually enhancing read. It is simple and engaging.