If ever there was a summer beach read specifically crafted for the East Ender, Judy Blundell has done it in the form of The High Season, the accomplished Young Adult novelist’s first foray into adult fiction.
The High Season begins on Memorial Day weekend on the North Fork, where Ruthie Beamish, her almost-ex-husband Mike Dutton, and their teenage daughter Jem prepare for the “summer bummer,” the desolate nickname Jem has coined for when the family leaves their year-round house during the most expensive summer months in order to rent it out to various billionaires. In the case of this particular summer, said billionaire is Adeline Clay, the widow of a blue-chip artist—“Adeline wore a delicate blue-and-white-striped shirt with rippling oversized ruffles down the front, white jeans, sandals, and enormous sunglasses… Her outfit whispered, I am rich, and this is appropriate summer attire, because this is as beachy as I am willing to get”—who is accompanied by her stepson Lucas—“He must be about twenty-two or –three now. And every inch beautiful: wheat-colored hair, broad chest, narrow waist. Even from here she could tell he’d inherited his father’s startling light-blue eyes, the ones that photographed almost white.”
Rather quickly after her summer-renter arrives, Ruthie begins to lose it all (as if she hadn’t almost lost her husband and almost lost her house already). Her coveted job as director of the local museum is at stake, her family dynamic threatening to rip permanently asunder and her home now infiltrated by a haughty socialite with an uncanny ability to also permeate Ruthie’s personal life. Soon, the entire town of Orient is on the brink of unfathomable change.
Blundell, a Long Island transplant from Brooklyn, writes smartly, sharply, and with astute purpose in every detail and subplot. Every sentence feels fully finished, intentional and expertly crafted. Not only does Blundell understand how to create plots and craft fine-tuned sentences, but also, rather intellectually, how to create worlds. And in The High Season, Blundell does just this.
The Long Island–bred (or bound) will find that life here has been perfectly encapsulated, particularly the summers, in The High Season’s pages. And it’s not just the imagery Blundell has nailed—“This lovely, perfect village, neighbors who knew her, the bluest hydrangeas, the best view on the North Fork” and “He gazed out at the bay, a powdery blue today, with a scattering of white sails skittering toward Bug Light. A rainstorm the night before had failed to clear the humidity, and the world had summery blurred edges”—with sharp and witty details only an East Ender could zero in on. Blundell ascribes to her main character the emotions that come with living in a grand place and yet, because of money, celebrity, or power, still doesn’t quite fit in (at least during the summers when the money, celebrity and power aspects). “All along the hundred miles of Long Island, from Manhattan to the East End, skeins of highway were traffic-snarled by eight in the morning. On the North Fork families were spilling out, stretching and inhaling after the dawn ride from Manhattan, parents having bawled at their children, still thickheaded with dreams, to pull on shorts and get the hell in the car. Barbecues were rolled out from the garage, convertible tops folded down, beach chairs snapped to. High above the creeping cars, helicopter blades purled the air as they carried the rich and the lucky to the Hamptons on the South Fork.”
In The High Season, Blundell crafts place so brilliantly, so finely, that it too becomes a character—and not just the house Ruthie Beamish, Mike Dutton, and their daughter Jem have to leave behind but the East End itself.
The High Season is an exquisite, intentional work of fiction all readers will enjoy, but East Enders especially. From its beautiful prose moments to the innate hilarity (and inherent sadness) that ensues when two nearly-divorced people still attempt to live together, co-parent and be friends, The High Season is a mesmerizing journey of unforgettable characters who navigate money, celebrity, power, art, divorce, growing up and ultimately, summers on the East End.
Meet Judy Blundell at Southampton Books (16 Hampton Road, Southampton. 631-283-0270, southampton-books.com) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 28. The High Season is now available at your local bookstore.