REVIEW: THE GUEST COTTAGE, BY NANCY THAYER

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Zach and Sophie Anderson have the perfect life in their gorgeous Boston home, with their two wonderful children, Jonah, 15, and Lacey, 10. Or at least it seems to be perfect on the surface.

So when Sophie finds a suspicious notation on Zach’s calendar, she has to confront him about it. And he is all too eager to share that he is in love with Lila, his associate, and wants a divorce.

Reeling from the news, Sophie decides to pull an “Aunt Fancy,” a term she uses to describe the wild and crazy ways that her now deceased aunt dealt with things: she took some money from her inheritance from Aunt Fancy and rented a guest cottage on Nantucket for the summer.

In nearby Cambridge, Trevor Black, who runs his own computer business from his rented apartment, and whose wife has tragically died, is raising his four-year-old son and facing some challenges with Leo’s behavior. He decides that a change will be a good thing. So off they go to Nantucket…to a cottage they have rented.

Imagine their surprise to discover that they have each rented the same cottage–from the Svenson cousins who are not big on checking what the other is doing–and will have to find some sort of compromise. After they each check the other’s references, they give it a try.

What follows is an intriguing adventure that leads the adults and the children on an unexpected summer of discovery and a big start toward healing and starting over.

But there will also be lots of visitors to the cottage for each of them, from Sophie’s friend, the aggressive Angie, who makes a play for Trevor…and then tries to reel in Hristo, the wealthy Bulgarian who has his own yacht.

Then comes the mother of one of Leo’s friends, Candace, who boldly announces to Sophie that she and Trevor “belong” to each other. But is that the truth, or wishful thinking on her part?

Right away, I was intrigued and found The Guest Cottage: A Novel a lovely mix of nostalgic moments, possibilities of new love, and a wide variety of adventures that were fun to read about. What happens by summer’s end is the stuff of romance and the unexpected treasures of life. I enjoyed this one a lot, despite its predictability; it felt like a true comfort read that left me smiling. 4.5 stars.

A PIERCING TALE OF LOVE LOST, FOUND, & EMBRACED AGAIN — A REVIEW

When Raymond Gaver’s plane crashes enroute from LA to NY, Charlie Leveque, his attorney, is the one to tell Raymond’s ex-wife Martha. Martha, who remembers hating Charlie for his role in turning her world upside down in the divorce from Raymond.

And now she discovers that he is the executor of the estate and the one to whom she must address financial requests for her son Jack.

Sorting through the detritus of a life abruptly ended brings these characters in close proximity with one another, and then, almost by accident, Charlie and Martha become friends. She begins to understand that he is not to blame for how Raymond tore her life apart, and, in fact, he has gone through his own divorce and is left trying to figure out how to raise his teenage daughter Phoebe. They realize they have more in common than they thought.

As their relationship begins to change and they become close, they discover that, as it turns out, their children are tight friends, who may be more than friends. Instead of making life easier, this complicates things.

The journey of these characters in forging their new lives, separately, and later together, is beautifully wrought, set against the backdrop of Manhattan life with all of its complexities.

Gutcheon has a unique talent for showing us what life looks like in Manhattan in the 1990s, and especially how to navigate life after divorce in these times. She is brilliant at dialogue, showing us the delightfully awkward movements of adults discovering new love, just as she also takes us right into the world of teenagers, with all their funky behaviors and appearances. We begin to see each of the characters; we hear what they hear and chuckle at their flaws, foibles, and missteps. Here is an excerpt that spotlights some of the issues for Martha and Charlie:

“Martha looked doubtful. She was so tired she could hardly remember why it was she couldn’t just fall into his arms and go to sleep. Why couldn’t they just tell the children to behave themselves? Think of the pleasure of cooking breakfast together for all three children, of going to bed together two nights in a row, of going to the supermarket together and deciding together what to cook, of taking a walk together without having to arrange baby-sitters or take three subways to get to each other to do it. Think of sitting together in lamplight after dinner, reading and looking forward to going upstairs to bed together, instead of looking forward to going out in the rain, getting in a cab, and going sixty blocks to sleep alone.”

We meet other characters along the way, like Sophie, Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, and her sister Connie, whose marriage is falling apart. These characters intersect with the others, almost randomly, but their appearances somehow shape and redefine the lives of our major players.

But what obstacles will appear to seemingly derail their lives? How do the complexities of sharing their domestic lives somehow prevent or complicate those ordinary moments? And how, finally, will each of them sort it all out so that the domestic pleasures can be accessible to them?

I loved Domestic Pleasures : A Novel and thoroughly enjoyed savoring the lives of such colorful and real characters that made me root for them, and long for their victories, even as they struggled. There were humorous and sad moments, just as there are in real life, in this memorable tale that I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys touching, piercing stories of love lost, found, and embraced once again. Five stars.