4 star review

Review- That Camden Summer

That Camden Summer
by LaVyrle Spencer

I remember reading this first on one of those rare breaks during college where I could not stand to write another paper but felt like I had too much to do and couldn’t go home. So, I found myself on the second floor of the library where the scanty fiction section was. I wasn’t expecting much because this wasn’t an author that had ever interested me, but I was instantly captivated and re-read this book several times over the next several years, naturally I was pleased to find a copy of this on OpenLibrary. As with most books you can check out through open library, because they are scanned your best bet is to use Read Now or download PDF using Adobe Digital Editions.

In 1916, Roberta Hewitt returned to her former hometown newly divorced from her philandering and gambling husband, with her three daughters and a job as a nurse and a tendency for independence. The residents of the town are dismissive and critical, even her own family, and her brother in law is worse. Gabriel Farley is the town’s handyman and jack-of-all-trades ACS he works on her house. Initially he is as crude as her brother-in-law, but over time they develop a friendship that sets tongues wagging.

So first things first on this. There’s a trigger warning. There’s a moderately graphic rape scene. It isn’t gratuitous and is integral to characterization and plot for several reasons, but may be distressing to some readers.

Now on to the more pleasant things. I loved how much information we got about cars of that time period, the way they were run and serviced and the way people felt about women owning and operating them. It’s a big part of the story, and while I was fascinated, and in the end, it actually did turn out to be integral to the plot, I can see why some people might get bored or frustrated. However, what I loved most was the characterizations and how the people changed throughout the story, or how our perceptions of them changed. Rarely have I loved and hated characters in such equal measure throughout a story while still feeling they were believable characters and not merely caricatures. Roberta was no Mary Sue; she was a strong and determined woman who even by her own admission was overly stubborn. She wasn’t always as tidy, reserved or circumspect as women of her era were expected to be, but she was joyous and true to herself. Gabriel wasn’t perfect either. He was just as crass and crude towards a divorcée as one might expect from men of that era, and he wasn’t a perfect father either, being more reserved than a motherless daughter might need. But it didn’t take long for Gabriel to open his eyes and take another accounting of the situation. And it was so lovely watching these two very different individuals first learn to be friends then to integrate their lives, and finally for Roberta to learn to lean and Gabriel to open up his emotions and play. And while Elfred, her brother-in-law was ultimately unredeemable, it was clearly his own choice. I despised him unreservedly. Myra, Roberta’s mother, on the other hand, while I certainly couldn’t like her, I did learn to understand, just as Roberta did.

So, I’ll rate this as 4 stars for a touching and realistic journey into love the second time around.

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