Reviewer Karen Dahood : Karen lives in Tucson, AZ. After 35 years as a writer for businesses and nonprofits, she has turned to writing mysteries,the subtext of which addresses ageism, unpreparedness for aging, and America's wealth of experience and wisdom. Learn more about eldersleuth Sophie George at the Website Moxie Cosmos; Making Sense of Life Through Writing.
Author: Samantha Bruce-Benjamin
This clever novel is meant to represent five minutes in the life of a woman who is throwing a party for the Long Island summer set, who has no idea that The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 is about to devastate them all. It is compared to the American classic The Great Gatsby, notably about parties and prestige. The author (a literary editor) says the shape of it was inspired by Mrs. Dalloway, in which the English novelist Virginia Woolf records the minutiae of a society woman’s day. This book stands on its own but it does not stand easily. It is difficult for someone like me, an avid mystery reader who majored in in creative writing and journalism decades ago, not to over-analyze. Yet the structure is important, so I will pass on that the narrators are the key players in this poignant story that actually stretches over thirty summers and recalls five Friday night parties in the same house. It is also divided with a sense of momentum into five stages, from Arrivals to Farewells.
We hear in short chapters from The Hostess, The Host, The Uninvited Guest and a couple of others, each of whom helps to gradually unwrap the facts, which are obscure almost to the very end. Like “Gatsby,” this story is set during and after World War I. It is presented as historically researched, the real life storm playing a prominent role and the details of the social life around which the plot revolves seemingly taken from newspapers and other eyewitness reports. In “Gatsby,” details are concrete but not tied to historical events so much as to a legendary place. Here the events are central and the details are symbolic. The repeated images are faithful to the time, but they do not represent American Realism. To the contrary, they are the emotional touchstones of the characters who are trying to make their lives as satisfying as they think they ought to be. Both novels reflect ambition in an unregulated economy at a time when an individual could hope to become someone else. In fact, the central idea seems to be that the characters do not see who they really are. They rely on others for definition. To put it succinctly, the voices in Bruce-Benjamin’s love story – which is, more accurately, a tangle of love stories -- come out of a dream world which is about to be shattered by a natural disaster.
This book is chock full of sharp, sage observations that range between wistful and cynical, and these accumulate to make the characters stronger than they first appear. Indeed, they narrators seem to age watching “their people” face life’s vagaries. To the reader, the vagaries are in the shifting points of view, the eking out of information over time. I admit to occasional frustration trying to follow the story line, as the key witnesses meander and seem not to be trusted. Perhaps that is the author’s intention. In any case, I hung on, eager to know what the truth was and what was finally going to happen.
The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club is worth tackling. It is intelligently constructed by a savvy Scots writer who is earning a Ph.D. in American Literature. She knows her stuff. Just don’t expect a documentary about the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. You’ll have to research that later as well as look at Google Maps of Long Island to pinpoint the location of the Hamptons. Jump into the book for the ride with a skilled driver of prose (much more skilled than the driver of Gatsby’s sporty yellow road machine). She has made a powerful statement about women in that time period, and it isn’t pretty.