BOOK REVIEW: ‘Summer Breeze’: Friendships Tested as Three Women Interact at Massachusetts Lake

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Summer Breeze': Friendships Tested as Three Women Interact at Massachusetts Lake

Summer breeze
makes me feel fine
blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze
makes me feel fine
blowing through the jasmine in my mind
 — “Summer Breeze”: Seals & Crofts, 1972

* * *

Whenever I feel the urge to delve into a self-help book for ideas on how to cope with a problem, I stop myself and instead reach for a Nancy Thayer novel! Thayer’s people have problems, but they always seem to resolve them — sooner or later.That was the case with her 2011 novel “Heat Wave”, set on Nantucket Island, where transplanted Midwesterner Thayer lives and writes (link to my review: and that’s certainly the situation in “Summer Breeze” (Ballantine Books, 320 pages, $26.00, also available in eBook editions).

Nancy Thayer

Nancy Thayer

If I have any criticism of Thayer’s characters it probably involves the famous “Lake Woebegon” effect — named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional Minnesota town where “all the children are above average.” Not only are Thayer’s fictional children above average, her WASPy adults are way beyond above average in looks and educational accomplishments. They’re like Nicole Kidman’s Martha Gellhorn and Clive Owen’s Ernest Hemingway in the new HBO movie “Hemingway and Gellhorn.” (My younger sister, Natasha, a contemporary of Thayer’s, likes the movie and so do I).
In “Summer Breeze” Thayer goes off-island to Dragonfly Lake in the Connecticut valley of Massachusetts, where thick-on-the-ground colleges and universities like U-Mass Amherst, Amherst College, Hampshire College, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College attract Prius-driving locavores (the word of the year for 2007: people interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market). The Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts probably has more Ph.Ds than any similar area in the world.

Don’t look for it on a map — I tried — like Lake Woebegon, Dragonfly Lake is fictional, but the problems of Morgan O’Keefe, Bella Barnaby and Natalie Reynolds have the ring of reality.

Thirty-year-old Morgan is on the mommy track after giving up a satisfying career as a hazardous materials specialst, moving to Dragonfly Lake when her husband Josh takes a high-paying job with Bio-Science Industries. Of all the characters in the novel, Josh seems to want Morgan to become the perfect Stepford Wife, decorating their modern home and serving as the perfect hostess to impress his boss Ronald Ruoff and his socialite wife Eva. Like many women who quit their jobs to raise a family, Morgan loves her son Petey and husband Josh, but misses the collegiality of her job in the biosafety department of Weatherford University near Boston.

Bella has left her elementary school teaching job in Austin, Texas to be a caregiver to her mother, who has broken a leg. She returns home to help out in the Barnaby home on the lake, manning the counter at the family business, Barnaby’s Barn, an outdated shop sorely in need of a makeover. While living in sophisticated Austin, Bella has picked up some ideas to make the shop more attractive. A job decision by her boyfriend, Aaron, an architect, could change all her plans.
Fed up with New York City’s hectic pace, Natalie Reynolds takes up her wealthy interior decorator aunt’s offer to house-sit her lakeside house for a year. The stay brings out the best in Natalie as she finds subjects to draw and paint among her new-found friends and neighbors. She also discovers that being a novice swimmer is a good thing when she finds herself in the arms of a handsome neighbor pulling her up from the water for a gulp of air. Talk about cute meets: When Natalie meets Ben scores an eleven on the cute-meet-o-meter!

So light up the citronella candles to keep the bugs at bay, pour yourself a glass of chardonnay or riesling and enjoy Thayer’s latest look at friendship, sibling relationships and love and marriage in “Summer Breeze.” Thayer’s observations on how friends can offer comfort and open one’s eyes to choices that have to be made.

About the Author

Nancy Thayer, born Dec. 14, 1943 in Emporia, Kansas, is the New York Times bestselling author of “Heat Wave”, “Beachcombers”, “Summer House”, “Moon Shell Beach”, and “The Hot Flash Club”. She’s been married since 1984 to her second husband, Charley Walters. On her website she says: “In 1982, I flew to Nantucket to visit a friend, and met Charley Walters, who owns a music store where he sold records back then, sells CDs now, as well as, once again, records, which are now called ‘vinyl.’ We married in 1984, and since then we’ve lived on Nantucket island, in a wonderful old house built in 1840. I’ve got a big half moon window in the attic, where I write and gaze out at the harbor, watching the lighthouses flash as the ferries and boats sail in and out. We have two cats and, at the moment, no dog, which is fine, because Rex thinks he’s a border collie, and herds me around the house, especially when it’s time to eat.”

Her website:


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