“Legions of fans will applaud this emotionally affecting and often surprising story.” — Publishers Weekly
“An uncompromising, complicated portrait of the insidious dangers of the patriarchy that is also a lot of fun to read.” — Booklist
If you’re a fan of Jennifer Weiner, or at the very least if you’ve followed her work the past couple of years, you’re probably wondering two things about her latest novel: What happened That Summer (Atria Books)? Is it the same summer as in Big Summer? Or in a less tongue-twisting way, is this a series?
The answer to the first question turns out to be obvious. And while you may know by the end of the prologue what might have happened, it is merely the catalyst for the story.
The answer to the second question is no. However, there are two main similarities that link That Summer to Big Summer. And one is a spoiler of sorts. Both books have scenes set in Cape Cod in the summer, and a specific house there. What happened at the house in Big Summer is spoiled in That Summer. So, if you don’t want to be spoiled, read Big Summer first. However, they are not a series.
OPPOSITE WORLDS SHARE COMMON GROUND
In That Summer, Diana “Daisy” Shoemaker is at a point in her life where she feels unfulfilled and maybe even neglected by a husband hung up on 20th-century gender roles, and a teenage daughter that loves her taxidermy and her Etsy store more than Daisy. Then, Daisy begins to get email invites to wonderful soirees and other elegant functions that she realizes are going to her email address by mistake — it’s only one character off from the intended recipient.
When she contacts the other Diana, she finds a friend in Diana Starling, a jet-setting consultant with a New York City home base. But as their friendship grows, Daisy finds out they have a lot more in common than she first thought, including a troubled past and an unpleasant secret that connects both their families.
WOMEN LIVING LIFE ON THEIR OWN TERMS
With That Summer,* Weiner continues her exploration of female characters who, by different means and in varying ways, have been reduced. These are women who are not able to fully realize their potential in a world run by wealthy men (and the authority and privilege they are granted), women who are stymied by societal stereotyping — until they forcibly take back their power. Whether it’s punching someone (Big Summer) or being an initiator (That Summer), these women must push their way into being their real selves.
This is what I most resonate with in Weiner’s novels. She’s reinvigorated that emotional journey to self-actualization with her latest novel. That Summer reminds me of what I first fell in love with when I read her debut, Good in Bed — a woman’s struggle to resist being defined by society, no matter what’s thrown her way, striving to live life on her own terms. It touches a part of me that now realizes the more you conform, the less people care about who you are — and the less “authentically you” you become. Break free, and be yourself.
This is easier said than done for many women. So much of society is set up to cater to men. As a byproduct, women have been objectified, abused, pushed into roles that they dared not attempt to get out of, or flat-out forgotten. All of these were at one time acceptable behaviors and circumstances in American society — some acceptable until only recently — and for those that weren’t, they still came without adequate — or sometimes any — punishment.
MULTI-GENERATIONAL VIEW OF WOMEN’S PROGRESS
Through the main characters, Daisy and Diana, and the girls and women surrounding them, Weiner shows readers a generational view of the slow progress we’re still making out of women’s oppression. Staunch gender roles of the Boomer generation, the difficult transitions for women of Generation X, and the frank defiance of Gen Z are all on display in That Summer.
So while you may initially want to find out the mystery of “The Two Dianas” (what Weiner first called this book), the more intriguing story lies in their journeys from confined and conforming to finding out who they really are.
*Trigger warnings: references to and a scene of sexual assault and allusions to hate speech.
Jen Blankfein’s review of “That Summer” on BookNationByJen
It’s All About the Chase in Sherer’s “Mistaken Identity”
Neighborly Curiosity Crosses a Line as Nosiness Becomes Stalking in “When I Was You”