The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek

September 13, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): Half-sisters Cassie and Peck could not be more different. Cassie is a newly divorced journalist with her feet firmly planted on the ground; Peck is a vintage-obsessed actress with her head in the clouds. In fact, the only thing they seem to have in common is their inheritance of Fool’s House, a rundown cottage left to them by their beloved Aunt Lydia. But Cassie and Peck can’t afford the house, and they can’t agree on anything, much less what to do with the place. Plus, along with the house, they’ve inherited an artist-inresidence and self-proclaimed genius named Biggsy who seems to bring suspiciously bad luck wherever he goes.

As these two likable sisters try to understand their aunt’s puzzling instructions to “seek a thing of utmost value” from within the house, they’re both distracted by romantic entanglements with men from their pasts. The Summer We Read Gatsby, set in the end-of-an-era summer of 2008, is filled with fabulous parties, eccentric characters, and insider society details that showcase Ganek’s pitch-perfect sense of style and wit.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Well, I love anything that has to do with Gatsby, so I appreciated the frequent references to the various characters in FSF’s work and to the novel itself. However, Gatsby really had very little influence on the plot as a whole, which was a tad disappointing.
  • The book was well-written. I think Danielle Ganek has some real talent, and I would certainly be open to reading more from her in the future.
  • I thought Peck was a terrific character. I enjoyed her little quirk of saying “Literally…” before nearly every sentence out of her mouth. I can totally picture someone like that! She was funny and eccentric without quite reaching the territory of annoying or unbelievable.
  • Because of the book’s title, I kept trying to discover parallels between Ganek’s story and Fitzgerald’s. It seemed to me that Cassie as narrator = Nick as narrator. Did that make Peck the female version of Gatsby since she was trying to recapture a past love? Or was Miles supposed to be Gatsby because he was the fabulously wealthy one? And then if Miles was Gatsby, then Cassie couldn’t be Nick because she didn’t have that kind of connection with Miles. I gave up in exasperation, of course, but it was still a fun mental exercise!

Disliked:

  • There were just way too many storylines going on at once. There was Lydia’s death and the home sale; the search for the “thing of utmost value;” the thefts by Biggsy; Miles and Peck; Cassie and Finn; and then various references to Cassie’s life/job/ex-husband in Switzerland, as well as the girls’ childhoods and their memories of their father, etc. It made my head swim at times!
  • I thought the author tried to hard to make Fool’s House sound like the center of the hippie art scene. Someone making a sculpture from a used compost bin isn’t art; it’s just plain silly.
  • Because there was so much going on, Ganek wasn’t able to do any of the storylines sufficient justice. For example, the way the painting mystery was built up made it seem as though there was going to be a major reveal/twist of some sort, but that didn’t happen. Each of the storylines ended rather abruptly and they all fell flat, IMO.
  • Biggsy was such an annoying character — and not in a good, love-to-hate-him sort of way. He served zero purpose except to be set up as a straw man foil for the girls to focus their energy on. I mean, why even have the stupid painting mystery (and Gatsby first-edition misdirect) if neither item was going to turn out to be authentic? It was just a waste of time.
  • I didn’t feel any kind of chemistry between any of the couples in the book, so the love stories had me snoozing.

Rating:

I really wanted to like The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek, at first because of its title alone and then because of Peck and Cassie. But there just wasn’t enough character development, plot development, or overall substance for my tastes. If this book had had any other name, I probably would have abandoned it about 1/4 or 1/2 way through. As it is, I give the novel 3 stars out of 5.

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