Book Review: Big Summer

Jennifer Weiner on the shore of Cape Cod

Drue Cavanaugh is steeped in white privilege.  Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner rips away that facade and exposes the empty, painful loneliness within:

I’d chased after [Drue], and she’d chased after her father, craving his love and attention, never getting what she needed.  All that effort, trying to shore up the business and prove her worth and get her father to love her; never knowing that none of his children held his interest for very long.

Her Instagram life of happiness, perfection, wealth, and power masked her inner conflict and insecurities.  She was equal parts generous friend and manipulative, abusive bitch who burned people like Daphne Berg, Darshini Shah, and Leela Thakoon, who made the mistake of believing they were important to her.

Jennifer Weiner and her husband Bill Syken on their 4th wedding anniversary. He is an author and sports writer.

During law school, my watering hole was the uber-exclusive Tavern Club in Chicago.  My drinking buddies were members of the most wealthy, old money families in the city, and they were also the most miserable people I’ve ever met.  Every one of them drank themselves to death.  Every.  One.

Why?  One confided during a date, “the only people who ever loved me were paid to do so.”  Another bitterly said that he worked 24/7 to “meet the monthly nut.”  His dazzling afternoon rubbing elbows with Prince Charles on the Oak Brook polo grounds was work.  He was constantly entertaining clients whose legal fees funded his “nut” ~ the overhead of his lavish lifestyle.  Both men were emotionally unavailable and didn’t have a clue how to give or receive love; they drank excessively to silence the pain:

[Drue] was trying to get her dad to care about her.  You and I, we both had parents who cared. . .We both had parents who loved us and encouraged us.  Drue never had that.  Think about how she must have envied us.

Jennifer Weiner

After law school, a trio of powerful, wealthy Black women came into my life.  The mother of one of them adopted me into their family as the “woodpile” child.  I witnessed her being racially profiled by store security which I thought was nuts because she was my most wealthy client by far.  I also witnessed and experienced the joy and unconditional love and support her family members lavished on each other.  It was a stark contrast to the sibling rivalry, abuse, and perpetual competitiveness in my own “privileged” family.

A year ago, the much beloved mother of a gay male, Canadian friend passed away.  I had never met her, but I weeped more for her than I did for the woman who brought me into the world.  I discovered from witnessing their amazing bond that we need to experience unconditional love in order to receive it and share it with others:

I did chase after Drue, even though she was never a good friend to me.  And you [Darshi] were.  You always have been.

Thank you, Vince Stone

White privilege is, in essence, a variation of the grass is greener cliche.  The greatest privilege of all is to love and be loved in return.  It makes all the difference to the quality of our lives and is essential for us to thrive, succeed, and find joy.  At the end of Big Summer, Ms. Weiner shares terrific advice which she put in italics to make sure readers will notice:

I’m not brave all the time.  No one is.  We’ve all been disappointed; we’ve all had our hearts broken, and we’re all just doing our best.  Make sure you have people who love you, the real you, not the Instagram you.  If you can’t be brave, pretend to be brave, and if you can’d do that yet, know that you aren’t alone.  Everyone you see is struggling.  Nobody has it all figured out.

All of us are blessed.  All of us face trials and tribulations which test us.  We can face these challenges with grace, grit, and determination, or we can wallow in a “poor me” sea of self-pity.

I give Big Summer a huge five stars.  I loved the rich diversity of the characters and the wicked blend of mystery and romance as well as the author’s courage to rip the facade off the bullshit notion of white privilege while affirming the late, great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for us to judge each other on the content of our character.  We need to learn how to love, respect, and honor each other if we are ever to build a bridge over the racial divide.


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