I just got off the phone with my friend, the author Judy Blundell, whose latest novel, “The High Season” just came out to rave reviews. The New York Times called Judy “a writer to watch; People Magazine named it their book of the week; and Entertainment Weekly said it is a “must read.” Judy won the National Book Award a few years ago for her young adult novel, “What I Saw And How I Lied.” Her newest book (she’s written 114) is her first for a grown up audience.
Intrigue, she said, is an important subject. “The High Season” is full of intrigue. The story is set in the small beach town of Orient, New York. “Small towns are a wonderful repository of intrigue,” Judy said.
Judy and I met years ago when she and her husband and young daughter lived in Katonah, N.Y., where we used to live. She said she wrote much of this book while sitting in a wing back chair in the village library. She said she worked on the book a long time. “I first thought about it 15 years ago,” she said. “The story appeared to me but it has taken me a long time to write.” She said adult stories with adult themes and parenting and marriage and careers and what happens when those things derail all at the same time guided her novelistic thinking.
“What do you do in the face of catastrophe?” she asked.
Judy said she based the book on experiences and observations she developed years ago when she and her husband lived in Montauk, New York, a rural beach town whose tiny year-round population swells like a king tide during the summer months. She often thought about the full-time residents who worked multiple jobs and/or turned their private homes into summer rentals just to hold on. With escalating taxes and infrastructure costs, the financial situation has only become more difficult for regular residents.
“You have school teachers who in summer months become Uber drivers, and people renting out their homes Memorial Day to Labor Day to live in a trailer just to get the summer income,” my friend said. “People going to extraordinary lengths just to hold on to their financial place in American life.”
“The High Season” is told from three female points of view: Doe, a Millennial; Gem, a teen; and Ruthie, a Baby Boomer. The third, unspoken character, is the heavy weight of seductive privilege and its potential for abuse.
“Ruthie loses her job, her house, her husband, and track of her teenage daughter all in the course of a few summer weekends,” Ms. Blundell said. “She makes the absolute wrong choice in an effort to get everything back.”
My husband and I often joke if only we had someplace else to live for the summer, we would do well to rent out our house. We have friends who just sold their Seaside house and for the time being, are living in their trailer. I asked the husband how that’s going and he shrugged.
“It’s OK for a week at a time, but…” and then his voice trailed off.
I grew up in a summer resort town on the east coast. I’m no stranger to the pressure of making an entire year’s income in three frantic and exhausting months. Summer is the high season and for retailers the opportunity to climb out of the hole of debt or stagnation they’ve endured all winter. It affords homeowners to make double or even triple mortgage payments or cover costly home repairs. Bring in intrigue and the seduction of privilege and just about any beach town has the potential to be a novel or an HBO series. Have you ever watched “The Affair”?
I haven’t finished reading “The High Season” yet. Truth to tell, I can scarcely bear to put it down. If you’re looking for a summer read that hits close to home, even if it is set on the opposite coast, check it out.
Pick it up at Beach Books, 616 Broadway.