Ruthie Beamish is living a complacent life along with her 15-year old daughter and ex-husband Mike. They’ve been amicably separated for three years and jointly own a house located in a quaint but tony village on the north fork of Long Island (the Hamptons are on the south fork). They’re not one of the wealthy residents but their lives are interwoven with them as Ruthie is the director of the town’s museum, the Belfry. However, in order to afford the upkeep on the home and survive financially, each summer they must vacate it for rentals and relocate to cheaper accommodations. Unfortunately, this high season brings turmoil from every direction for Ruthie, causing her to abandon her typical way of being and fight for what’s most important in her life.
This is a unique view into the personalities and behaviors of the ultra wealthy, not the standard fare you would expect to find (high-handedness, snobbery, extravagant spending, etc.). There is that but just as background. What’s really illuminating is the insight into their outlooks, values and aspirations that lie beneath the veneer. The contrasts between them and those who rely on their support was enlightening, seen through the eyes of Ruthie and Doe, a young woman who also works at the museum and has found a way to survive in this velvet jungle.
I vacillated between admiration and frustration for Ruthie but came to respect her as she was forced out of the cocoon she’d created for herself. It wasn’t always pretty or above board but she faced the realities head on, even when it was excruciatingly painful. Doe was a tougher character to embrace but eventually I came to appreciate her, completely unconventional with an ethical code that was sometimes questionable.
I loved this story, even when I didn’t like many of the people in it. Ruthie’s journey was authentic, boils and all and I liked how her choices weren’t even close to being predictable. Things aren’t wrapped in a bow but seeing a person come to fit in her own skin was enough for me. Tough story but one I’m glad I read. Julia Whelan delivers her typical outstanding performance, distinguishing the relevant characters and elevating an already fine story.
(I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review)