In the High Peaks

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Hundred Summers and The Hurricane of '38

I succumbed to the rave customer reviews for A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, a story about [a] doubly triangulated romance(s) that ends with the winds howling like the end of the world and a Bang! Although I found the beginning chapters a bit predictable and slower-going, from mid-point in the novel until the end, I thought the pacing was excellent, the surprises many, and the last 50-80 pages stellar!

Setting: An exposed coastal setting in Rhode Island; May--September 1938. Yes, for those of you who have family history in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, you've heard about the incredible devastation of "The Hurricane of '38." Family stories abound for me, even though my family weren't present on the southern New England coasts at the time. It was devastating inland as well.

So, if you like a romantic novel with a few sophisticated complexities that elevate it above the Harlequin, and if you like the time period with a historic storm thrown in, this is the book for you. Very inexpensive as an e-book, though it was published this year.

Spoiler Alert! 
I've just got to add a family story that relates to the book AND the current American emphasis on post-hurricane rebuilding on the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in the U.S.

My nana, my father's mother, grew up in the seaport city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, very close to Rhode Island, and a coastal region badly devastated by the hurricane. She did not live there at that time, however. In 1938, the year of the hurricane, she and my grandfather, my father, and my aunt lived in a suburb of Boston, so Nana and the rest of my father's family did not experience the worst brunt of the storm, even if suburban Boston did lose millions of trees.

However, immediately to the west of New Bedford, was the once-bustling summer community of coastal Westport, Massachusetts; in particular, the cottage community that surrounded what is today called Horseneck Beach. In my youth, my family and I would drive to Horseneck for a day of fun in the surf and sun. I always marveled at how incredibly flat the entire region was. There were hills until a point two miles or so from the shore. Only one building stood at that time.

I asked Nana about this, because I knew she and her parents frequented the summer community for a day at the beach. But Nana told me that when she was young in the early 1900s up until the Hurricane of '38, there were dozens and dozens of cottages, little restaurants, a club, and other shops for tourists there. It wasn't the flat wasteland of sand dunes that I knew, but a place with trees, lawns, landscaping, little hills, yet the Hurricane completely leveled the land and swept everything out to sea.
And here's the thing that stunned me then and amazes me now--No one rebuilt. No landowners rebuilt their cottages. I find this incredibly interesting, considering all the ambitious rebuilding that has taken place in coastal New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Even after Hurricane Katrina. I'm not talking about New Orleans here, but the vulnerable, extremely flat, Gulf region that's at sea level or below.


  1. Fascinating story...hard to believe not one of those owners ever decided to rebuild. Perhaps nobody wanted to be first?

    I'm glad you ended up enjoying the book. Can certainly understand your feeling that the beginning was predictable. It seemed like a story I might have read before, too... but it turned out to be such a wonderful read!

    1. Joann!
      I'm sorry to be so late in responding!

      I agree that I am at this time astounded that no one rebuilt there. But all the soil was washed out to sea. The area is flatter than a pancake. Perhaps because it no longer resembled the pastoral landscape it once was, people decided to rebuild elsewhere.
      You're right--I'm so glad I read it. I was captivated.
      Thanks for recommending!

  2. I read about this book in a magazine and thought I'd give it a try. I finished it in 2 days and posted my recommendation on Facebook. One of my friends has now bought a copy!