Saturday, August 7, 2021

"Summer" by Edith Wharton

I don't think I'm going to be an Edith Wharton fan.  In fact, after reading Summer, I took two more of her novels off my TBR shelves and put them in the sell-to-the-used-bookstore box in the basement.  Between reading this book and Ethan Frome, and reading a pretty detailed synopsis of both The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth, I have discovered that she really liked to write books about characters in bleak situations with no hope of a good outcome for their lives, with all their options being bad or miserable or wrong.  And you know what?  I Do Not Like Books Like That.  Like Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck.  No.  It's just cruel to create vibrant, believable characters and then torture them.

In Summer, a young woman from a very small New England town wishes she could leave her narrow existence for something more meaningful.  She was taken in by a lawyer and his wife when she was a child, but never actually adopted by them.  Now she works as the librarian at the library no one in town is interested in, caring for books she doesn't even want to read herself.  Then a young man arrives in town, an architect who wants to spend the summer drawing old and interesting houses in the area.  His aunt lives there, so he's staying with her.  

Obviously, Charity Royall and Lucius Harney get together.  And fall a bit in love.  And things go wrong.  And keep going wrong.  And go more wrong.  And then go wronger still.  And by the end of the book (this is TOTAL SPOILAGE), Charity is pregnant with Lucius Harney's baby, he's married to someone else, and she has basically been forced into marrying the weird and often icky old lawyer who raised her.  

WHAT THE HECKITY HECK HECK HECK?

And worse that simply being a miserable book about miserable things happening to make miserable people even more miserable is the fact that this book actually made me anxious and depressed while I was reading it!  This is not why I read books.  I do not read them so that I can feel worse about the world around me, or to have myself made unhappy.  

You know that saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?"  I take that seriously.  I work hard at remaining contented, happy, and upbeat because my mood and behavior directly and deeply affects three young people and one medium-aged man.  They do not need me to walk around sinking under a cloud of gloom caused by fictional characters being treated badly by their author.  So, no more Wharton for me.

However, I do want to mention that I really liked the copy that I read -- it's a beautifully illustrated edition from Sweet Sequels.  She has lots of books available, including several that are out of print elsewhere.  I love the feel of her covers -- very smooth and tactile-ly pleasing.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for oblique discussions of abortion and more direct discussions of unwed pregnancy.  Charity does not have an abortion, but she knows a girl who did, and visits a doctor who performs them.


This has been my 24th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 36th read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021

10 comments:

  1. YIKES. This sounds like an absolutely horrible book. No thank you!!

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  2. I would encourage you to try both The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. Wharton is not her best in Summer and Ethan Fromme is bleak and disappointing. And I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Steinbeck. The Age of Innocence is not bleak, it is simply real with some interesting social commentary and good depth to the characters. The House of Mirth, I think, is a masterpiece. No, it's not happy but it shows how a life of inner character can rise above a worldly one. I loved both of these. In any case, I do hope you at least give those two a try. It might help Wharton redeem herself in your eyes.

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    1. Cleo, it's good to know those two are not quite so dreary! Thanks for the info. I'm sure the library has them, so perhaps I'll try them at some point.

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  3. I've never read the books, but I've seen all the movie adaptations and never cared for any of them; they are indeed bleak. :P

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    1. Charity, I haven't seen any movies based on her books, oddly enough. I know people praise Age of Innocence to the high heavens all the time... but now I'm leery.

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  4. That's very fair. I don't read books which make me unhappy or depressed either, no matter how "well-written" they are. I do not choose to torture myself in that fashion, good sir, good ma'am. :-P

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    1. Katie, yeah, I just don't need the dreary greyness in my head. I have other books to spend my time and mental & emotional energy on.

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  5. I really enjoy Edith Wharton's writing style and the way her mind works, but I've never yet enjoyed a single one of her books. I keep going back hoping that this NEXT one will be something I can love, but so far it's always been a miss for me.

    They all start out alright, and they're brilliant social commentaries, but by the end they're all so depressing. Every time I read one of her books I have to follow it up right away with something really jolly or I get stuck in a brain fog for days!

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    1. Lissy, so interesting! I get that way about some of Dickens, tbh. I do really enjoy Tale of Two Cities and A Christmas Carol and some of his shorter things... but many of his novels leave me saying, "Maybe I'll like the next one..."

      I was glad I was rereading The Count of Monte Cristo when I read this so I could just dive back into that and be okay again after a couple days of gloom.

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