The Summer Cottage follows Adie Lou, a middle aged woman who is finalizing her divorce, watching her son go through collage, and missing her parents deeply. Her parents have always been the source of her happiness and the family summer cottage holds a special place in her heart because of all the great memories she had there. But when the cottage and boat that her parents left her are brought into Adie Lou’s divorce deal and her husband convinced her to sell it, Adie Lou is reminded of how much her family has sacrificed to the next generation to make those memories and happiness. Adie Lou has a change of heart and decides she wants to turn the old summer cottage into a B&B and continue the family’s vacation rules.
Rules of the summer cottage:
1. Leave your troubles at the door
2. Soak up the sun
3. Nap often
4. Wake up smiling
5. Build a bonfire
6. Go rock hunting
7. Dinner is a family activity
8. Ice cream is required
9. Be grateful for each day
10. Go jump in the lake!
11. Build a sandcastle
12. Boats are a shore thing
13. Everyone must be present for sunset!
14. Shake the sand from your feet, but never shake the memories of out summer cottage. It is family!
The Summer Cottage is a light book that left me a bit surprised at having enjoyed it. It was a book club pick and I have never read what some would call “chick-lit” before*, so I was taken off guard at how much the simplicity of the story and characters didn’t bother me. The underlying themes of building ones self-confidence, following ones dreams, and ignoring the haters was strong enough to overcome the conflicts I had with the novel.
I love that the book was broken down to follow the summer cottage family rules. The story didn’t feel forced into the confines of them and I enjoyed the creative interpretation of “go jump in a lake.” While the story was predictable in that I knew it was going to have a happy ending and that the protagonist was going to get what she wanted despite the massive amount of money her undertaking would have been, the luck she had in everyone hired by her being laze-fair about getting paid, that her life and divorce was privileged with enough wealth to have a summer cottage and take on the challenge of transforming it, and the unrealistic accomplishment of making money on her first summer opening, I somehow still enjoyed the book. Even as I type this, I’m confused at the positive reading experience despite the numerous negatives I mentioned–things that have turned me away from other books in the past.
The side characters felt fleshed out just enough to have believe-ability in the simple roles they played, though I wholly did not believe the change-of-heart behavior of Nate at the end. I also didn’t relate to Adie Lou in her privilege, but the aspiration to follow your dreams is, I believe, a universal human quality. I was particularly drawn to Adie Lou’s desire to empower more women who have suffered and given up a lot in order to put their husbands or family first. Women who have been used by the patriarchy and discarded or who have to work twice as hard and prove their worth against men who do not. This was such a small piece of the larger story, but I really liked that this was part of her drive. To raise women up.
There is something to be said to reading a novel that has charming qualities, especially when you are someone who tends to be a realist. The book spoke to the optimist in me–the dreamer that wants to see everyone happy and treated fairly and who gets to follow their own dreams. Stories like that can be overly saccharine and quickly leave a bad taste in my mouth. The Summer Cottage managed to skirt the line of improbability with just enough conflict to move the story along.
*I do not buy into the labels of “chick-lit” and “women’s fiction” because I feel they are demeaning and underrate both female authors and writing in general. Just because a woman writes a book about women’s issues or that a woman writes at all does not mean her audience is immediately halved to encompass only female readers. I especially dislike the term “women’s fiction” because it is solely a marketing term that is laden with inequality and implied sexism–only women will like it, women only read these kinds of books, men should not read this and will not be interested in this because it is supposed to be for women, women can’t handle deep reading (which also implies that fiction, especially fiction written by women, isn’t as profound as non-fiction), women don’t like non-fiction. It is the reason we have issues with women’s literature being pushed into young adult categories against their will and shows that yet another industry continues to have sexist double standards while profiting off of the backs of underpaid women. Magnify this issue if you are a female minority.
Additionally, I would like to point out that this book was written by a man using his grandmother’s name, which gives you even more to consider.