If you were excited to see both Sex and the City movies no matter what the critics said, then Danielle Ganek's second novel is for you. A wry but uplifting tale of two women who inherit a house from their crazy aunt, The Summer We Read Gatsby is a little like sending Kristin Davis on a mission of self-discovery in South Hampton with only Kim Cattrall for support. Voicing their sisterly hijinks is Justine Eyre, winner of two Earphones Awards, who is quite capable of portraying all the upturned noses and spilled martinis it takes to tell this story.
When judgy and uptight ex-pat Cassie is called stateside to handle her Aunt Lydia's estate, she is forced to negotiate it with her half-sister Peck, whose penchant for overusing the dozen words she knows in French is matched only by her desire to become an actress. Off to the Hamptons they go, to Fool's House, where the late Lydia's will cryptically instructs them to "seek the thing of utmost value". They find a safe that may or may not open, lose what may or may not be a very early Jackson Pollock painting that can help them afford to keep the house, and run into old boyfriends that may or may not make suitable husbands.
Along for the ride, of course, are two hilarious gay neighbors and a mysterious artist-in-residence. One Brit, one Scot, and one motorcyclist all of whom Eyre has no trouble expressing with both the appropriate accent and the appropriate level of campy charm aid the girls as they each try to salvage their sense of self in the chaotic legacy Lydia left behind for them. Cassie keeps the sarcasm at a steady drip while Peck piles on etiquette for the glamorous. And all the characters are obsessed with Fitzgerald's classic novel, The Great Gatsby, each in their own ridiculous way.
Still, there is a light touch here. What keeps the narrative grounded is that Ganek herself is an ex-pat who did time in New York's art world, so her observations largely remain astute. What keeps the narration grounded is that Eyre is willing to use her Canadian acting chops to paint a deeper portrait of the people fueling these decadent garden parties. The well-known setting is torn right out of a summer edition Williams-Sonoma catalogue, but Eyre's generous commitment to interpreting the characters as more than just a compilation of witty remarks keeps the book engaging. Megan Volpert