After their beloved and eccentric Aunt Lydia dies and leaves them to inherit Fool’s House, a ramshackle old place with tons of character, half sisters Pecksland “Peck” Moriarty and Cassie Moriarty arrive in Southampton ready to greet a summer of unknowns. Growing up with the same father but on different sides of the globe, Cassie and Peck know little about one another’s current lives — and share snippets of memories from their formative years. A love of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby united them several summers before and is a bond now, too.
After moving into Fool’s House and meeting Biggsy, the “Fool In Residence,” Peck and Cassie set to work readying their aunt’s property for sale. The sisters are instructed to live in Fool’s House for a month before shedding the property — an instruction Cassie is determined to keep. Peck, on the other hand, can’t seem to bear any talk about selling their aunt’s beloved property and begins a theatrical campaign to keep it.
After one of Aunt Lydia’s favorite paintings goes missing and Biggsy points fingers at Miles Noble, Peck’s first love, the Moriarty girls must band together to get to the root of their aunt’s mysterious life — and find a “thing of utmost value.” Perhaps in an unlikely place.
Danielle Ganek’s The Summer We Read Gatsby was a unique novel about two sisters who become an unlikely pair of friends. Dramatic, theatrical and over-the-top Peck is a total counterpoint to Cassie, a practical writer and expat who returns to the United States after years of living abroad. Both girls seem to share little and know even less about one another, though they’re predisposed to love each other. And that’s what sold me on this novel: despite the antics, banter and occasional bickering, you knew Peck and Cassie were sisters who cared.
The setting of the book is an interesting one — especially since, from the outset, we’re told the novel takes place in the summer of 2008. Given that we’re skating around in 2010 now, just two years later, I was surprised to see a definitive date given at the start of the book. But, as with all good novels, there’s a reason for that: we’re drawn into a lush world in the Hamptons where optimism, money and superficiality are the norm.
Two years later, thick in the middle of a U.S. recession, extravagant theme parties, foreign sports cars and high-end meals in New York City are, at best, out of reach for most Americans — and, at worst, disgusting shows of wealth in a time when so many are struggling. Much like, you know, in The Great Gatsby. Daisy and Tom Buchanan, anyone? Many of Ganek’s characters bask in the glow of financial security, showing little regard for trivial matters like money. Biggsy stands as the foil to that: a starving, scheming artist frantically looking for a way to make ends meet. And, unfortunately, that often means making a nuisance of himself.
The plot moves along quickly; the writing was interesting and fluid, propelling me through one summer in the lives of two extraordinary women. Next to the buoyant Peck, Cassie occasionally came across as dry — but I think that’s what I liked about her. She knew she could never keep up with Peck and her ridiculous hat collection, so she didn’t even try. She simply basked in the glow of being close to Peck, having a family, and figuring out where to take her own writing. And how to write.
One of my favorite moments:
‘What difference did it make if they were still in love or not when he died?’ She reached out and patted my knee with one hand. ‘You couldn’t change the ending of that story.’
‘I called my mother the queen of unreliable narrators,’ I said, as the rush of words in my brain abated.
‘I thought I was the queen of unreliable narrators,’ Peck said, only half kidding.
‘I suppose we all are,’ I said. ‘That’s what I’m starting to realize. We all tell our stories the way we want to. And sometimes these stories have nothing to do with reality.’
(Page 123, ARC)
And, well, ain’t that the truth.
Fans of contemporary fiction will be seduced by quirky Peck and Aunt Lydia, even posthumously, and just might relate to Cassie, too. Considering The Great Gatsby stood as my all-time favorite novel for quite some time, I appreciated the allusions to Fitzgerald’s classic — but if you’ve never read it? Don’t be put off in the least. No Gatsby knowledge is required for enjoyment. Just get ready for a breezy, mysterious good time.
4 out of 5!