New fiction: 'Summer Reading'

The works of Anthony Trollope form an unlikely backdrop to three women's lives.

Ah, summer in the Hamptons, when a young woman's fancy turns to thoughts of … Trollope?

Angela Graves, retired professor, wearily supplements her pension by hauling bored socialites through great books. "The idea, the fad, of 'summer reading' – as if books were seasonal commodities like sun-ripened tomatoes or root vegetables – slightly offended her." The members of the club, the Page Turners, all look like Clairol shampoo ads, but Angela thinks the host, Lissy Snyder, might be more than a pretty shell. Lissy, a newlywed and newly minted stepmother, is a closet dyslexic who can't make it through any of the assigned novels. "It seemed more like winter reading to her – that endless blizzard of pages flecked with the blown soot of words," she thinks as she struggles through chapter 14 of "Can You Forgive Her?" by Anthony Trollope. Her maid, a resentful local who eavesdrops on the meetings, has also become a de facto stepmom to her boyfriend's teenage daughter.

For her first novel in 12 years, Hilma Wolitzer ("The Doctor's Daughter") takes a concept that could have been designed by a team of marketers and imbues it with real warmth. One wishes she had resisted the urge to neatly tie up all three women's stories at the same time in a feat of synchronized living, but aside from that, the book is a lovely way to spend a summer's day. Grade: B

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