“Summer Friends,” by Holly Chamberlin, June 2011, Kensington Publishing Corp., $15, 355 pages.
“The Summer of Us” by Holly Chamberlin, 2004, Kensington Publishing Corp., $15, 424 pages.
The beach is never very far away for Mainers, a day trip at most. Packing for the sand and the sun is easy. You need a towel, snack, volleyball, bucket, sunblock and, if you’re looking for a quiet day of relaxation, you’ll want a good book.
The ideal beach book is usually a fast-paced story, often fictional and not particularly philosophical or mentally stressing. They easily can be resumed after a paragraph is interrupted by a breeze that flips the corner of your towel and showers the pages with sand. Beach books draw you in, make you smile, and perhaps cause you to think about issues in your own life as you soak up the sun.
Holly Chamberlin of Portland, author of six novels set in New England, specializes in creating just that type of story. Her newest novel, “Summer Friends,” set to hit bookstores in June, is perfect for throwing in a tote bag before setting off for the coast.
“I want to tell a good story,” Chamberlin said recently while sitting at the dining room table of her Victorian-style home in Portland. “I’m not a literary writer. I read serious works, but I don’t write literature.”
“Summer Friends” is about Delphine and Maggie, two women in their late 40s who reconnect in Ogunquit after walking away from a friendship 25 years before.
Delphine, who comes from a long line of Maine farmers, first met Maggie when they were nine years old and Maggie’s family spent the summer on vacation in Ogunquit. They returned each summer, and the girls’ friendship strengthened until they became college roommates. But after college, Delphine returned to Maine and ceased all contact with her beloved friend.
“I think everyone can relate to that,” Chamberlin said. “I’ve screwed up friendships over the years.”
On a whim, middle-aged Maggie takes a break from her busy career and family to return to Maine in a Lexus convertible to find Delphine a single woman, working her family farm and doting on her niece. Their summer reunion is woven with flashbacks of their childhood through college years, memories that lead them to revisit the reasons their friendship ended.
“The love story in here is definitely between two women,” said Chamberlin, who often makes romantic relationships central to her stories but focused on pure friendship for this novel (though the two women have their fair share of problems with the men in their lives).
Chamberlin, originally from New York, has lived in Maine since 2003. With a master’s degree in English, she spent years editing books until one of her colleagues suggested that she try her hand at a novel. Now she sets all of her stories in Maine.
“I think it’s a great state, and Mainers are rightfully proud of it,” she said, adding that it’s a compliment for her to be considered a Maine writer.
Chamberlin used to consider herself a “snobby reader,” preferring literature to what might be considered a “beach book.” But through her editorial experience, she realized the value and appeal of lighter stories, ones that can be read before bed without challenging your tired brain or brewing existential nightmares.
“What I want is for the average person to be able to read my story,” she said, adding that the majority of her readers are female because her main characters are almost always women.
Chamberlin normally tends to write about characters who are near to her own age — 48 — but sometimes she makes exceptions. “The Summer of Us,” which she published in 2004, is about a group of younger women and recently was republished with a readers’ group discussion outline and author interview. Rereading her earlier work, Chamberlin felt a motherly protective instinct about her three main characters, who are in their late 20s.
While “Summer Friends” is about women facing the past, “The Summer of Us” is about three young women looking to the future. Gincy, Danielle and Claire, three unalike strangers, decide to rent a rickety beach house together on Martha’s Vineyard for the summer. Chamberlin switches from one perspective to another in short chapters, making for an amusing, engaging and heartwarming story.
It’s a page-turner for a sunbather. Laugh at Gincy’s shocking sarcasm. Examine your sandals when Danielle rants about fashion. Throw a clam shell in frustration at Claire’s quiet acceptance. And if you delve into “Summer Friends,” maybe you’ll feel the urge to give your best friend a call as you soak in the sun.
Potential beach books, hot off the press
“Dead Reckoning” by Charlaine Harris, released May 3, is the eleventh installment in her popular vampire series, the inspiration for HBO’s television series “True Blood.”
“The Throne of Fire” by Rick Riordan, released May 3, is the exciting second installment of the three-book series for young readers, based in Egypt.
“Dreams of Joy” by Lisa See, released May 31, is the sequel to See’s 2009 novel “Shanghai Girls.”
“Doc: A Novel,” by Mary Doria Russell, released May 3, is an action-packed story of an American town in the late 1800s.
“America Pacifica” by Anna North, released May 18, is her debut novel set in a dystopian future about an 18-year-old girl who sets out to find her missing mother.
“The Warlock” by Michael Scott, published May 24, the fifth installment of a bestselling young readers series, “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.”