Lissy Jablonski was fifteen during the summer of 1985. That was the summer her father, a soft-spoken, seemingly passionless gynecologist, up and left her mother for a redheaded bank teller. The same summer Lissy and her mother disappeared from their quiet New Hampshire lives to have an adventure of their own amid a cast of unlikely characters, including a Valium-addicted ex-debutante and a suspected mobster. The summer the reliably comforting "girl talks" with her mother began to reveal startling secrets. It was also the summer that Lissy's mother would ever after refer to as "the summer that never happened."
Now an almost-thirty-years-old advertising executive in Manhattan, faced with her father's imminent death and newly pregnant by her married ex-lover, an unmoored Lissy finds herself looking back across the years. Contending with her affections for an old boyfriend and his doomed marriage to a Korean stripper named Kitty Hawk, as well as the tangible legacies of that unmentionable summer with her mother, she realizes that she has become more like her mother than she ever could have imagined.
In her debut novel, acclaimed short-story writer and poet Julianna Baggott has woven a precise, smartly comic, and compassionate tale of discovery and desire. With a lyrical sensibility, Baggott reminds us -- through the witty and unsparingly realistic voice of her narrator, Lissy -- of the pleasures and sorrows that can come from the most unreasonable realities of the heart.
Poet and short story writer Baggott's debut novel is a touching coming-of-age story that delivers more depth than its title might imply. A baby boomer doctor's wife in New Hampshire takes her 15-year-old daughter on a voyage of discovery, then later denies the secrets revealed by calling it "the summer that never happened." Although accustomed to being roused from sleep for her mother's late night "girl talks," Lissy Jablonski is unprepared for what her mother, Dotty, has in mind one summer night in 1985. Lissy's gynecologist father has run off with a young bank teller. When it becomes evident that her husband is not going to return, Dotty counsels Lissy, "Don't cry... he's not your real father," and Lissy begins to discover her mother's tangled past. The two embark on a road trip to Dotty's hometown of Bayonne, N.J., where Lissy learns about her one-eyed, mythically endowed biological father, Anthony Pantuliano; the grandmother she thought was dead; and the choices her mother made that shaped both their lives. On the way to Bayonne, Lissy loses her virginity to Church Fiske, the son of her mother's best friend, wealthy ex-debutante Juniper Fiske. Looking back in 1999 as a 30-year-old, newly pregnant but unmarried advertising exec, Lissy realizes that she is repeating the patterns of her mother's life, as Church asks the same question of Lissy that Anthony asked of Dotty. Baggott's multilayered, psychological tale is told with a deceptively light tone, in scenes shifting from past to present.