One Summer by David Baldacci
When an author moves from one genre to another, he or she must experience a myriad of emotions and feelings. An upwelling of creativity spurring the new writing and energetic anticipation of new characters and plot lines might be two prominent motivations. However, the overarching sentiment that follows the writer from the point of inspiration to the publication of the final product may well be great trepidation. How will an already established audience greet so different a story? Will the book enjoy the success of previous books, or will it be rejected out of hand?
Author David Baldacci took this risk when he penned “One Summer”. Baldacci is known for his suspense thrillers such as the Camel Club series, “Deliver Us From Evil”, and “First Family” which Zion’s readers previously enjoyed as a monthly selection. “One Summer” is a horse of an entirely different color. Jack Armstrong is staring death in the face after a rare disease has invaded his body and agonizes over losing the love of his life, wife Lizzie, and his three children. In a horrible twist of fate, Lizzie dies in a car crash. Jack’s in-laws arrange accommodations in their home state for the children, far from the hospice center Jack enters after the funeral. Jack is left to die alone when, miraculously, he starts to recover. The story follows his efforts to redevelop his physical stamina, reclaim his children, rebuild his family, and refurbish an old coastal cottage and lighthouse along the South Carolina coast that had been Lizzie’s childhood refuge. These journeys do not always run smoothly and are met with disapproval by his mother-in-law who is enveloped in the pain of losing her daughter. Jack, having been a soldier and often missing the formative years of his rebellious daughter, has to learn how to be a single parent while struggling with mind-numbing grief. His children have to adapt to new circumstances, new friends, and a new relationship with their dad. The friction with Jack’s mother-in-law results in a climactic coastal storm scene in which the refurbished lighthouse metaphorically channels Lizzie’s heavenly protection of her family. Altogether a totally different story from Baldacci’s normal routine of secret agents and spies!
The author’s trepidation would have been justified by the reactions of Zion’s readers. Although granting “One Summer” is a very readable book, a majority of our readers took issue with the improbable miracle on which the story was based. Many felt the plot line was too predictable, especially when the local restaurant owner in the seaside town, an attractive divorcee with a teen-aged son, appeared on the scene. Descriptive comparisons such as “a bad Lifetime movie” or “a good Hallmark movie” were bandied about as we talked. Character development was deemed lacking and clichés seemed to pepper the story. What a tough crowd! And yet, our readers agreed that Baldacci knows how to tell a story and the book was well written. It received two 1 thumb down votes, 7 neutral votes, and one 1 thumb up vote. An ability to suspend reality seems to be a requirement for enjoyment of this novel, so if someone wants a quick summer read for a beach vacation (where reality is suspended as a matter of course), “One Summer” might be the perfect choice.