I had ideas about the story when I picked up Life Without Summer, Lynne Griffin’s fiction debut, but I was wrong. I thought I knew what was meant by Summer, but I didn’t. I imagine, too, that I’m not the only reader who was hesitant when on reading the jacket copy, I learned the story concerned the loss of a little girl, adorable four-year-old Abby. But there was something so compelling in Griffin’s writing from the very first page: Fall, it begins, day 18 without Abby. This from Abby’s mom, Tessa, who is foundering in a nightmare of grief after a hit and run driver ran Abby down in front of her pre-school. Other seasons of grief follow, winter and spring, while Tessa grapples with the nightmare of horrendous loss and what she deems the near-criminally inept handling of the investigation by the detective who is assigned to Abby’s case. But in a way it’s Tessa’s anger at this man, and her frustration that sustains her. It’s her single-minded focus on bringing the driver to justice that creates the shape of her days.
Ethan, Abby’s daddy, who is struggling in his own way, asks Tessa to see a therapist and she complies although in the beginning she questions what sort of help she can get from Celia who, while she is compassionate in her attention to Tessa, keeps her professional distance. Celia has her own story, one that unfolds alongside Tessa’s and it is in this way that the real complexities of this plot begin to be revealed. Celia’s life too has been filled with tragedy. There’s a half-grown son and his secrets, an ex-husband and his alcoholism. There are other things, hinted at, whispering between the lines. There’s all this nice stuff about a new husband and a new life for Celia and her son. But something feels off about it. This is what is so well done throughout this novel, the feeling it gives of having its own secret. It will be summer before the pages give it up, the answer to the mystery. By then hearts will be broken all over again and then entwined in ways you can’t imagine.
Another beauty of this novel is the sensitivity with which each character is portrayed. Tessa and Ethan (their marriage in the aftermath of such tragedy just comes to life off the page), Celia and the members of her family are each one so skillfully drawn and so realistic and true to life. Remarkable for their courage and tenacity, yet flawed. Human in other words. Believable. As is the ending. I’m glad I took a chance on this book. For more visit Lynne's website.