This is the story of a family, holidaying in Nantucket over the summer each year. We’re getting an insight into their life during the eponymous “Summer of ‘69”.
Exalta, the grandparent generation, is the matriarch of the family. Her husband, Penn, passed away years ago and is idolised by Exalta who herself has been a prisoner of the (sometimes questionable) morals of the time but is on her way to make the best of the tumultuous times.
Exalta’s daughter, Kate, is part of the parent generation. Her first husband, Wilder, who served in the Korean War, died shortly after coming home while cleaning his gun. Wilder is the father of Kate’s daughters Blair and Kirby and her son Tiger whereas her third daughter, Jessie, is her second husband’s child. David, Jessie’s father, is a lawyer and made sure Kate got the life insurance payout after Wilder’s death. David is such a great guy, that instead of talking to his binge-drinking wife, he passive-aggressively avoids her completely – to which she responds by buying something huge…
Tiger has quit college to go to war in Vietnam and finds out that’s what he wants to do. Of course, he’s the good kind of soldier and rescues a young boy whose mother was killed (but she was Viet Cong, of course!) instead of massacring innocent villagers, using Napalm and Agent Orange like the rest of them (cf. My Lai).
Kate is so upset about his leaving that she starts drinking heavily. Well, Kate, wait till you see the pictures of what Tiger and his nice buddies did in Vietnam…
Her oldest daughter, Blair, is married to Angus (whose brother, Joey, she used to date) and is expecting their first child. Angus is mostly married to his job at NASA, though, and is working on the planned moon landing while possibly cheating on Blair.
Blair’s sister Kirby is a bit younger; a young adult with a secret that changed her outlook on life. Kirby strives to be more independent and, thus, finds herself a job on Martha’s Vineyard instead of summering with her family in Nantucket. From a young age on, Kirby wanted to be a rebel and, thus, went on a march with Dr. King and her teacher. She rather actively “befriends” the police (the nice guys routinely murdering coloured people in the USA, cf. George Floyd) while at it; slightly defeating the purpose.
She’s quite principled as well – unless the guy’s hot in which case she tells him off (his parents might not approve!) to later date him again when nobody will know it…
Finally, there’s Jessie: Jessie has just turned 13 and falls for Pick, 16, the son of the caretaker of her family’s summer home in Nantucket. Unfortunately for her, while he’s trying to get to second base with her, he’s working on another girl in parallel. Once that girl agrees to “go steady”, Jessie’s dismissed. Just in case, though, he keeps in touch with her as her penpal. Jessie also routinely steals when under pressure but her grandmother, Exalta, quickly fixes that for her to “save face”. Exalta doesn’t really want to know the reasons either, she just grounds Jessie for a week.
There are other characters like Bill, Pick’s grandfather, Bill’s hippie child-neglecting commune-living daughter Lorraine (AKA Lavender), the grabby tennis teacher, the pseudo-feminist tennis teacher, some of the “upper echelon”, etc. etc. but you get the gist.
Why do I tell you all this when I usually just skip to the nitty-gritty? Because you should know what this book is about before you stumble into it, knowing nothing – like I did. I have no idea why this book made it to my “to-read” list and I probably wouldn’t have read it in the first place had I known what I was in for.
By now, you might come to the conclusion that I’m not exactly fond of “Summer of ‘69”. Surprisingly (and somewhat shamefully), that’s not the case. In fact, I really enjoyed reading this multi-generation family soap opera of a book.
Sure, while writing this review, I feel like I should hate every single person that is even mentioned in passing in this book and, yet, it’s a feel-good summer read which is what I wanted. And now a storm is brewing here – must be karma for actually liking this.