Labor Day weekend is upon us, which means summer is winding down. While the season doesn’t truly end till September 22, kids are heading back to school, leaves are beginning to fall, and weekends at the beach become fond memories to hold on to as we brace ourselves for colder weather and say goodbye to long, sunny days.
But! One of the very best things about books is their ability to transport us to places, times, and yes, seasons, that we can’t otherwise access. Here is a list of books that take place in the summer, remind Rumpus Editors of summer, and/or just make for great beach reads.
Summer by Edith Wharton
The story of proud and independent Charity Royall, a child of mountain moonshiners adopted by a family in a poor New England town, who has a passionate love affair with Lucius Harney, an educated young man from the city. Wharton broke the conventions of woman’s romantic fiction by making Charity a thoroughly contemporary woman—in touch with her feelings and sexuality, yet kept from love and the larger world she craves by the overwhelming pressures of environment and heredity.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. It all started the previous summer. Marc, his wife, and their two beautiful teenage daughters agreed to spend a week at the Meier’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. But when a violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.
The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
A sensational bestseller when it appeared in 1986, The Garden of Eden is the last uncompleted novel of Ernest Hemingway, which he worked on intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1961. Set on the Côte d’Azur in the 1920s, it is the story of a young American writer, David Bourne, his glamorous wife, Catherine, and the dangerous, erotic game they play when they fall in love with the same woman.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
The year is 1985. Benji Cooper is one of the only black students at an elite prep school in Manhattan. But every summer, Benji escapes to Sag Harbor, where a small community of black professionals have built a world of their own. Because their parents come out only on weekends, he and his friends are left to their own devices for three glorious months. And although he’s just as confused about this all-black refuge as he is about the white world he negotiates the rest of the year, he thinks that maybe this summer things will be different. If all goes according to plan, that is.
Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro
Fierro’s debut novel takes place one late-summer weekend as a group of thirty-something couples gather at a shabby beach house on Long Island, their young children in tow. Throughout the weekend, conflicts intensify and painful truths surface. Friendships and alliances crack, forcing the house party to confront a new order. Cutting Teeth is about the complex dilemmas of early midlife—the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It’s about class tension, status hunger, and the unease of being in possession of life’s greatest bounty while still wondering, is this as good as it gets?
The California Poem by Eleni Sikelianos
California, hedonistically beautiful and increasingly endangered, is the star of this book-length poem that flies through time, memory, science, history, and imagination, mirroring the topography of the Golden State’s landscape and the history of its diverse cultures. Alternating between grand, Whitmanic tone and scope, Dickinsonian minute detail, Beat rhythms, New York School wit, and Objectivist sensibility, Eleni Sikelianos’s epic poem engages traditional lyricism with a breathtaking contemporary style and graceful urgency.
The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante
When Leda’s daughters leave home to be with their father in Canada, Leda anticipates a period of loneliness and longing. Instead, she feels liberated, and decides to take a holiday by the sea, in a small coastal town in southern Italy. But after a few days of calm and quiet, things begin to take a menacing turn. Leda encounters a family whose brash presence proves unsettling, at times even threatening. When a small, seemingly meaningless, event occurs, Leda is overwhelmed by memories of the difficult and unconventional choices she made as a mother and their consequences for herself and her family.
The Seas by Samantha Hunt
The narrator of The Seas lives in a tiny, remote, alcoholic, cruel seaside town. An occasional chambermaid, granddaughter to a typesetter, and daughter to a dead man, awkward and brave, wayward and willful, she is in love (unrequited) with an Iraq War veteran thirteen years her senior. She is convinced that she is a mermaid. What she does to ease the pain of growing up lands her in prison. What she does to get out is the stuff of legend.
The Blue Girl by Laurie Foos
In this small lakeside town, mothers bake their secrets into moon pies they feed to a silent blue girl. Their daughters have secrets, too—that they can’t sleep, that they might sleep with a neighbor boy, that they know more than they let on. But when the daughters find the blue girl, everyone’s carefully held silences shake loose.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
When notorious child abductor—known as the Marsh King—escapes from a maximum-security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger. No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena’s past: that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve, or that her father raised her to be a killer. And they don’t know that the Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone… except, perhaps his own daughter.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
A novel spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we are introduced to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the star-struck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.
Women by Chloe Caldwell
Caldwell’s unnamed narrator hasn’t ever had an affair with a woman until she meets Finn. Older, charismatic, and in a long-term relationship, Finn is mysterious and captivating and obviously bad news. The pair quickly find themselves embroiled in the kind of demented, obsessive lust-love that can’t possibly end well. Spoiler: it doesn’t. But the detailed, raw, funny and unsparing way Caldwell’s narrator tells the story makes the experience seem appealing anyway, and worth the pain.
The Last Usable Hour by Deborah Landau
At the heart of Deborah Landau’s second collection are epistolary love poems to an elusive “someone.” Here is a haunted singing voice, clear and spare, alone in the dark, alive with memory and desire yet hounded by premonitions of a calamitous future. The speaker in this “ghost book” is lucid and passionate, even as everything is disappearing—the streets deserted, the beloveds gone.
Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
Without telling her family, Elyria takes a one-way flight to New Zealand, abruptly leaving her stable but unfulfilling life in Manhattan. As her husband scrambles to figure out what happened to her, Elyria hurtles into the unknown. Her risky and often surreal encounters with the people and wildlife of New Zealand propel Elyria deeper into her deteriorating mind. Haunted by her sister’s death and consumed by an inner violence, her growing rage remains so expertly concealed that those who meet her sense nothing unwell. This discord between her inner and outer reality leads her to another obsession: If her truest self is invisible and unknowable to others, is she even alive?
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface. As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
The summer of 1928 was a vintage season for a growing boy. A summer of green apple trees, mowed lawns, and new sneakers. Of half-burnt firecrackers, of gathering dandelions, of Grandma’s belly-busting dinner. It was a summer of sorrows and marvels and gold-fuzzed bees. A magical, timeless summer in the life of a twelve-year-old boy named Douglas Spaulding—remembered forever by the incomparable Ray Bradbury.
Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Since We Fell follows Rachel Childs, a former journalist who, after an on-air mental breakdown, now lives as a virtual shut-in. In all other respects, however, she enjoys an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until a chance encounter on a rainy afternoon causes that ideal life to fray. As does Rachel’s marriage. As does Rachel herself. Sucked into a conspiracy thick with deception, violence, and possibly madness, Rachel must find the strength within herself to conquer unimaginable fears and mind-altering truths.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives. Beginning with the neighboring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy, and the mystery of creativity itself.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Lysander loves Hermia, and Hermia loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius; Demetrius used to love Helena but now loves Hermia. Egeus, Hermia’s father, prefers Demetrius as a suitor, and enlists the aid of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to enforce his wishes upon his daughter. Comedy ensues.