The High Season, Judy Blundell's first book for adults (her YA novel What I Saw and How I Lied won the 2008 National Book Award for Young People's Literature), blends the class-conscious populations of a Long Island summer in a comedic but insightful novel.
It's June on the North Fork, two ferry rides away from the billionaires in the Hamptons, and Ruthie, mom to Jem, not-quite-ex-wife of Mike and director of Orient's Belfry Museum, is preparing the family home for a renter. Vacating the house with a water view each summer provides the means to keep it. But this season turns out to be as tumultuous as the real hurricane on the horizon.
Glamorous Adeline, widowed heiress to her acclaimed artist husband's estate, appropriates the house, and, in short order, Mike as well. Adeline's arrival also titillates Ruthie's museum board, who hope to wheedle their way into her graces (and her funds). Ruthie's devotion to the Belfry, and her wholesome efforts that thoughtfully reflect small-town traditions, are no match for the elitist board. One of its members, Mindy, with her factotum Gloria (whose hair is "a spun sugar cage of platinum privilege"), intends the Belfry "to be part of the Hamptons aesthetic," and fires Ruthie. Jem admires Adeline, exacerbating the fraught mother-teen daughter dynamic, so when Ruthie occasionally erupts in frustration readers will sympathize. (Chopping down a lilac tainted with memories is a scene of pathos and comedy.)
Colorful characters abound, including a museum staffer who sells surreptitiously snapped photos of the rich and famous, and a secretive renowned artist. While The High Season is perfectly set on Long Island, the human drama is universal. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco