Monday, August 11, 2008

The Summerhouse by Jude Deveraux *****

I'm a Deveraux fan - sort of. Some of her books I've loved - and some I've not. So, in my reading journey, I pick up her books cheap and free when I can and fit them in when I'm in the mood. This book is one of the 8 I scored on my road trip, browsing through an offering of a couple dozen books destined for charity.

I'm wondering if The Summerhouse is considered more Chick Lit than Romance, if someone were parsing genres. While there is love and romance and a HEA, the story is driven by the events of 3 women's lives. The story is about these women who share the same birth date, who met through Fate at the NYC DMV getting their drivers licenses renewed. They were each in NYC to pursue a dream - of dancing professionally, of modeling, of being an artist. Because of a mixup (contrived as it was), they have to stay in the DMV for a few hours, and develop a short friendship based on their birthday and their situation.

Fast forward 19 years when one of the 3 arranges for a reunion.

Now - here's the premise. What if - what if you were given the chance to go back into your past and relive 3 weeks, from any point in time you chose? You could do whatever you wanted in that 3 weeks, and you would be there in the past knowing what you know today. To top it off, you get to choose when you get back which of the 2 lives you want to now continue with, and whether or not you will remember both versions.

(Actually - IMO, the real topper is that it only affects your life and not the whole world - but that's a different subject to debate - like a butterfly's wings starting the breeze the creates the hurricane that... Deveraux's time travel theory does not take that notion into account.)

Of course, it could be like a bargain with the Devil - there could be unknown and unplanned consequences. But - you choose - continue on as you were, or take the new life lived by your new actions.

So - we have 3 women, poised to change their lives. Ellie was the artist at 21 - but she met a musician who changed her path. He felt his music would be better appreciated in LA, so she gave up art and moved to LA. From her perspective, she did everything she could to help him further his goal, but he couldn't/didn't hold a job. She ended up writing 5 mystery novels and becoming a bestselling author, and when they divorced, she lost everything because he convinced the judge he was co-author and managed her career. When she arrives at their reunion, she's gained 40 pounds and has writer's block.


Her choice is to go back to 3 weeks before the divorce so she can go through the divorce differently and maintain her career and her self-esteem. But it doesn't go exactly as she thinks - she ends up meeting someone else. When she returns, she chooses the new life and also to remember - and in her new life, she has a new husband, a child and lots more writing left in her.

The model was Madison - a western girl almost 6 feet tall, she was sent to NYC by her small town to make it in modeling. Even though she was strikingly beautiful, she wasn't prepared for the cut-throat modeling world. She returned home when her ex-boyfriend needed her to help him get through a life-changing accident that left him paralyzed. She married him, had a miscarriage that resulted in a hysterectomy, and he divorced her, leaving her childless, broke and broken. She had one almost-affair with a medical student named Thomas but chose not to go through with it; later, Thomas was killed in a plane crash.

Her choice was to go back to the DMV day, moments later. With her current knowledge, she threw out her loving-hands-at-home portfolio, bought a new wardrobe and convinced a then-unknown but soon to be famous photographer to shoot a new portfolio for her. In 3 weeks, she managed to get the attention of a top modeling agency - and on her return, chose the new life as Ellie did - only she chose to forget the old life.

Now, in her new life, she has to explain to Ellie and Leslie who she is and what she is - a medical doctor with 4 kids, married to Thomas. They ask about Roger, the original husband, and she tells them about his accident which left him a paraplegic, where in her first life she helped him learn to walk again. Since she approached her new life with the knowledge of her 40-year-old self, she saw things differently this time around. Where she had reacted as a young person with rage and anger, she was cool and cunning. Things that had outraged her then were used to her benefit on her do-over. It was wonderful!

The best story is Leslie, the dancer - now she's a homemaker, married to the boy next door, Alan, with 2 teenagers. She feels she has paid her dues over and over again for jilting him originally to go to NYC only to learn she wasn't talented and motivated enough to make it in the dance world. She went back and married him after all, but now feels empty and used and unappreciated. Her husband has hired a younger, well endowed secretary named Bambi with whom he spends more and more time, causing lots of gossip.

She goes back to a fateful spring break in college. In her first life, Alan's car breaks down on his way to pick her up so she spends the week alone in her dorm room. In her do-over, she accepts an invitation to spend the week at the home of another student, a wealthy boy who in current times is a successful politician on the road to the presidency. Her time with him and his family and the other students shows her how things could have been with another man who was attracted to her, and then she spends the other 2 weeks with Alan.

Her revenge on returning is to choose both her same life and to remember - and she goes home to start changing things on her own. Her story is the most compelling and wonderful, because it reaffirms the notion that she always had the power to do what she wanted, and even now has the power to take control and do what she wants with her life. I'm not going to spoil the entire book with her satisfying ending - suffice it to say, I was well pleased with how it turned out.

5 stars - there were some bumps in it (not story bumps so much as events/sentences/words that had me scratching my head and wondering how that fit in) that almost demoted it to a 4, but I felt so good at the end of the book I have to give it a 5.

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