Thanks for being here and take it away Jamie!
The Family We Find
By Jamie Brenner
Last year my lifelong friend confided that something major was going on in her life. She had recently taken one of those at-home DNA tests, and was then contacted by someone also using the same testing company. My friend and this woman shared such a close DNA match, they had to be half sisters! Needless to say, this opened up a lot of questions — how had this happened? While my friend searched for answers, the writer in me created my own. And I had the starting point for The Forever Summer.
There’s probably no greater, more universal question than, who am I? Ten years ago, we could simply look at our parents and grandparents and that was enough of an answer. The idea of delving into family research was usually the domain of adoptees that couldn’t simply look at their immediate family. But now, in the era of ancestry.com and 23 and Me and shows like “Who Do You Think You Are,” ancestry research is the second biggest hobby in the U.S. following only gardening. And while it’s interesting and fun, there’s a percentage of people who get results they are not expecting, and in some cases, not prepared to deal with and as a result, have to reconsider what it means to be family. The complexity and joy of the discovered family is at the heart of The Forever Summer.
The Forever Summer begins with a surprise that brings three generations of women together. When two young women living on opposite sides of the country discover they are half sisters, they go on a road trip to meet the grandmother they never knew they had. One sister is thrilled by this development, the other is devastated; her mother has been exposed for keeping a very big secret. As for the grandmother, she is a woman who has suffered a lot of loss, and she had thought her days of having a house filled with family were long behind her. And then two young woman show up on her doorstep.
A big question for me was where this grandmother lived. What place could possibly facilitate the emotional journey these characters must go on? The answer came last spring when the CBS Sunday Morning show aired a piece about Provincetown Massachusetts.
Provincetown is past Cape Cod, the very tip of Massachusetts. It’s 3 miles long and two streets wide and framed by water on two sides. It’s remote and beautiful and has two big claims to fame: It’s the place where the Pilgrims landed before Plymouth, and it’s also one of America’s oldest arts colonies. Legends have lived and worked there: Jack Keroac, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Jackson Pollock and Milton Avery.
A more recent great artist, author Michael Cunningham, has lived and worked there for thirty years. He was interviewed on the CBS Morning show segment, and he called Provincetown “an eccentric’s sanctuary.” He said it’s one of the very few places he knows of that “prefers peculiarity.” That’s when I started thinking — this might be the place I’ve been looking for. A place where my characters could not only come to terms with their unconventional family, but embrace it.
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when I visited Provincetown for research: walking around the wharf, I saw giant black and white photos on the sides of buildings. They were of older women, women who looked serious and weathered and from another era. It was an art installation called “They Also Faced the Sea,” about the matriarchs of the Portuguese fishing families who were, for many generations, the backbone of Provincetown. So of course the grandmother in The Forever Summer had to be Portuguese, and she passes this rich Portuguese to her two granddaughters.
Still, I needed something that would bring the two sisters in my story together. It’s one thing to be related to someone. It’s another to relate to them. Provincetown again provided the answer: art. Art was everywhere I looked; even the signs outside of restaurants and shops are mosaics made from bright tiles and colorful stones and sea glass. I decided that mosaics would play a part in helping the new sisters bond. With a mosaic, , there a lot of different bits and pieces, some that clearly fit together, others not so obviously — but in the end, all coming together to create one beautiful, colorful whole. Just like a family.
I hope The Forever Summer brings home the idea that our families might be messy, complicated, even not what we expected. But at the end of the day it is the most important thing we have if we can just let go and embrace it.
Pre-order The Forever Summer here now
Jamie Brenner’s latest novel is The Forever Summer (Little, Brown). She is also the author of The Wedding Sister published by St. Martin’s Press ( a Target Emerging Author pick and one of Popsugars Best Books for Women 2016) and the historical The Gin Lovers (St. Martin’s Press), named by Fresh Fiction as one of the Top Thirteen Books to read in 2013. She lives in New York City with her husband and two teenage daughters.
Check out Jamie on the web:
Jamie Brenner will be on tour!
Tuesday, April 25th, 7:00 p.m.:
Barnes & Noble, Upper East Side
In conversation with Cristina Alger (author of This Was Not The Plan)
(150 E 86th St., New York, NY)
Wednesday, April 26th, 7:00 p.m.:
Barnes and Noble, Cherry Hill
(911 Haddonfield Road, Cherry Hill, NJ)
Thursday, April 27th, 7:00 p.m.:
WORD, Brooklyn (126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11222)
Saturday, April 29th, 11:30a.m.:
Turn of the Corkscrew Books and Wine,
Celebration for Independent Bookstore Day!
(110 N Park Ave, Rockville Centre, NY, 11570)
Tuesday, May 2nd, 6:00 p.m.:
Savoy Bookshop and Café (10 Canal Street, Westerly, RI, 02891)
Tuesday, May 9th at 6:30 p.m.:
Ferguson Library (1 Public Library Plaza, Stamford, CT 06901)
Tuesday, May 16th at 7:30 p.m.:
Point Street Reading Series (Point Street Dueling Pianos, 3 Davol Square, Providence, RI, 02903)
Wednesday, 5/31 at 7:00 p.m.:
Summer Reads Panel
Turn of the Corkscrew Books and Wine
(110 N Park Ave, Rockville Centre, NY, 11570)
Saturday, June 3rd
BookCon, Details TK (Javits Center, 655 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001)
Thursday, June 8th at 6:30 p.m.:
Drinks and Discussion at Booktowne (171 Main Street, Manasquan, NJ, 08736)