THE GOODBYE SUMMER, Patricia Gaffney's fourth novel, centers on
32-year-old Caddie Winger, a somewhat naive and inexperienced woman
who has lived with her grandmother for most of her life. Her
mother, Jane (Chelsea), was too busy to be there for Caddie, and
entrusted her daughter's care into her mother's hands. Without any
hint of complaint, Nana took Caddie under her wing and raised her
as her own daughter.
The book opens with Nana alluding to a home where she would like to
live while recuperating from a fall. Caddie finally figures out
that the home her grandmother is talking about is Wake House, whose
residents are mostly elderly people needing some help to get by but
do not need a nurse or companion to see to their everyday needs.
The one exception is Magill, a young man closer to Caddie's age
than Nana's, who Caddie later discovers is living there while
recuperating from an accident that took the life of his
Caddie's history could be considered tragic. She worshipped her
mother from afar, a woman who was caught up in the hippie movement
and who thought of herself as a singer first, a mother second.
Jane's life ends at the young age of 31, and Caddie does not know
much more about her mother --- not until much later in the book
when Caddie makes an effort to track down the man she thinks is her
father, a musician who played in her mother's band.
Caddie lives the life of a modern-day spinster. However, early on
in the story, Caddie meets an animal trainer named Chris. While it
takes Caddie a while to figure out that Chris is interested in her
romantically, she is on cloud nine once she realizes his
intentions. Caddie blossoms before everyone's eyes, and life takes
on new meaning. When her romance with Chris takes a turn for the
worst, it is her friends at Wake House who help her through her
darkest moments and teach her that there is more to life than
romance and love between a man and a woman.
There isn't any real strong plot line to THE GOODBYE SUMMER. What
makes this novel work is the characters who fill its pages. Caddie
goes through life not really living it, spending her days teaching
young people how to play the violin or the piano. She slowly comes
out of her shell, finds out who she really is underneath the facade
of being a very proper and somewhat dull person, and learns about
friendship and love through the residents of Wake House.
Caddie also watches as her grandmother slowly ages before her eyes.
The woman she had always looked to as her mother begins to lose the
ability to function normally in society. Through the friendships
she builds with Magill and others at Wake House, Caddie finally
connects with people other than her grandmother, and learns to be
independent emotionally rather than rely solely on Nana for every
basic social need.
Although Caddie is the central figure in THE GOODBYE SUMMER, it is
the residents of Wake House who give this book its charm and
substance --- Magill, the shy and rather strange young man who
finds himself drawn to Caddie; Thea, the woman who becomes Caddie's
close friend and mentor, the mother she never had; Cornel, an old
curmudgeon who is filled with love for Thea, but is unable to show
how he feels about Thea (or anything else for that matter); and
even Finny, Nana's Jack Russell Terrier, makes an impact on the
reader as he goes about his doggy duties and creates havoc wherever
he goes. There are a half-dozen more characters who populate this
book, and they all fit perfectly. All have their slight
eccentricities and quirks, which makes them all the more
interesting to meet and get to know.
This reviewer gives THE GOODBYE SUMMER a very hearty recommendation
of five stars. While Patricia Gaffney's first novel THE SAVING
GRACES fell short in terms of lovable characters and a good story
structure, THE GOODBYE SUMMER, her fourth novel, shows that she has
come a long way. Not only is it written well, it is also a joy to
read. This reviewer will be sure to pick up her next book.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 22, 2011
The Goodbye Summer