Books that make you cry can be cathartic and a way to release stress – acknowledging that someone else’s life is more miserable than your own. David Baldacci’s One Summer starts with a young father and ex-combat soldier dying – taking deep breaths from his oxygen tank, trying to make it to Christmas Day. I was already through a box of tissues before page 20. If you think it can’t get much worse – his wife dies in a car accident on her way to get his meds. I had to stop – not only to get more tissues but to distract myself for a while.
What better tonic than the most recent New Yorker? I have been reading old issues, happy to get them from the slow boat express that mails to the island, but finally I had access to the latest edition on-line – on the day of publication. Looking forward to reading a timely “The Talk of the Town,” I read “Empty Wallets,” summarizing Danny Hartzell’s dilemma – jobless, ineligible for unemployment and medical, with a young daughter diagnosed with the big C. Maybe Baldacci wasn’t so bad after all – at least that was fiction.
Baldacci eventually offers a respite from the tears, by making his hero a “Miracle Man,” cured from an incurable disease. Before long, however, the story becomes a soap opera, with a vindictive mother-in-law and the hero overwhelmed with life. The only place to go to recover – the Carolina dunes of his dead wife’s youth. Grandma conveniently dies and leaves the rundown childhood beach house to our hero, who is also a self-employed handyman. The story continues predictably – with frequent memory flashbacks, father and teen-age daughter confrontations, and the possibility of new love.
Life at the beach is good; the family slowly mends; and Balducci saves the story by firing up an ending with a tense courtroom scene and a dramatic sea rescue.
Better known for his mystery thrillers, Baldacci took a detour from guns and government agencies before in The Christmas Train, giving his character, tough reporter Tom Langdon, a forced change from air travel and the chance to find himself. Otherwise, look for Baldacci in his thriller element – Hell’s Corner – set in Washington, D.C. – where nothing is as it seems.
One Summer is an easy, fast, predictable beach read.