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July 1, 2009

Nancy Thayer: My Dream Book Club

Posted by carol
Nancy Thayer's latest novel, Summer House, is the story of Nona, Helen and Charlotte --- grandmother, mother and granddaughter --- who gather in their family's vacation home on Nantucket, only to have their idyllic lives threatened by a hurricane of secrets. Today Nancy talks about her dream book club gathering to discuss Summer House --- where it would take place, what would be discussed --- and reveals details about the characters and the story.

Nancy is also the author of Moon Shell Beach, The Hot Flash Club and several other novels.

My dream book club would meet in my garden on Nantucket Island to discuss Summer House. It would be in late June, right when the new dawn roses are blooming. I'd serve chilled Bellinis --- Prosecco and peach nectar --- and almond macaroons.

The members of my dream book club would come from all over the country. Since Nantucket is thirty miles out at sea, I'm pretty isolated. I love hearing different accents and different points of view. I love meeting strangers. I love hearing readers disagree about a book's characters --- it opens up new ways for me to see things.

First, I'd talk about my mother, Jane, now 91 and the inspiration for Nona, the grandmother in Summer House. I'd show you the photos of her when she was a young woman in WWII, wearing fabulous little veiled hats. I've always wanted to wear hats like that. I'd ask you if you ever wore hats like that, or wanted to. I don't think it's an entirely frivolous question.

I'd be very interested in knowing what my book club thought of Nona's secret. Would you have done the same thing in her place? We'd talk about the connection between grandparents and grandchildren, and how different it is from the connection between parents and children. Did our grandparents have secrets we never knew or even guessed?

Since this is my dream book club, I'll have us all magically transported around the island to the gardens that have inspired Charlotte's garden. I'd take you up Main Street where the trucks park on summer mornings, setting out their baskets of eggplant and arugula and bouquets of flowers. Charlotte, 30 years old, Nona's granddaughter, has her own organic garden business. She's trying, as her father says, to save the world, one lettuce leaf at a time.

I'd love to know what the club thinks of Charlotte's disregard of her parents' wishes. What would we do if we were her age? What did we do at that age? I'm sure we all made some very interesting mistakes. I can hear the laughter now.

When the club discusses Helen, who is sixty, I'd take out my pen. She loves all her children, especially Teddy, her youngest son, a handsome, charming, unpredictable, unreliable alcoholic, but does she make the right decision? Are there clear-cut right decisions for every family problem? I'm sure the discussion would be intense, and I'd take notes to help me when I write my next book. My writer's magpie mind would record the flash of one woman's smile, the swirl of another woman's skirt, and what everyone has to say about Helen and Nona and Charlotte. Someday these bits and pieces would help create a new character.

When the book club leaves, I'd give everyone an hourglass filled with island sand to help them remember Nantucket and Summer House --- and how quickly summer goes by.

---Nancy Thayer