Get a first look at Jennifer Weiner's next juicy summer novel
The queen of summer is back! In May, Jennifer Weiner will deliver another novel chock-full of sunny, sandy, and utterly readable moments with The Summer Place, and EW has a first look for everyone who's already counting down the days.
The book will follow Cape Cod resident Veronica Levy, whose beach house purchase came with visions of joyous family gatherings for generations to come. But as the novel catches her 40 years later, her husband is gone, her son has moved to the West Coast, and her daughter is too busy with her kids' jam-packed schedules to bother with family beach time. When Veronica's step-grandaughter announces her engagement, she decides to use the occasion to mark their final summer at the beach house.
Here, see the exclusive reveal of the cover for The Summer Place, and then check out an excerpt from the first chapter.
Excerpt from The Summer Place, by Jennifer Weiner
Ruby Getting Married
On a Friday night in April 2021, Sarah Weinberg Danhauser lit a match and bent over the Shabbat candles in the dining room of her brownstone in Park Slope. Dinner was on the table: roast chicken glazed with honey; homemade stuffing with mushrooms and walnuts; fresh-baked challah; and a salad with fennel and blood oranges, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds so expensive that Sarah had guiltily shoved the container, with its damning price tag, deep down into the recycling bin, lest her husband see.
Eli, her husband, sat at the head of the table, with their sons, Dexter, who was eight, and Miles, almost seven, on the left side of the table and Eli's brother, Ari, between them. Ari, twice-divorced and currently single, had become a regular Friday-night guest at the Danhausers' table. He wasn't Sarah's favorite person, with his gleaming good looks and his charming, nearly sly smile—not to mention how, at least once a year he hit Eli up for a check so that he could pay his child support—but Eli had begged, and pleaded ("The poor guy thinks Flamin' Hot Cheetos are an entire food group! He needs a home-cooked meal"), and had finally prevailed.
On the other side of the table sat Ruby, Sarah's stepdaughter, and Ruby's pandemic boyfriend, Gabe. Sarah supposed she should just call Gabe a boyfriend, minus the qualifier, but the way their romance had been fast-forwarded thanks to Covid meant that, in her mind, he'd always be a boyfriend with an asterisk beside his name. Gabe and Ruby had been together for just six weeks before NYU shut down and sent everyone home. Ruby had come back to her bedroom in Brooklyn, and Gabe, who was from California, had tagged along. The two had been inseparable that pandemic year, all the way through their virtual graduation, whether they were snuggling on the couch bingeing Netflix or taking long, rambling walks through the city, holding hands and wearing matching face masks, or starting a container victory garden on the brownstone's roof, which eventually yielded a bumper crop of lettuce and kale, a handful of wan carrots, and a single seedy watermelon ("Next year will be better," Ruby promised, after posting a series of photos of the melon on her Instagram).
They'd stayed together through the summer, into the winter, and, after the new year, when the pandemic had finally loosened its grip, they'd gotten vaccinated, gotten jobs—Ruby as assistant stage manager for an independent theater company in Jackson Heights; Gabe as a paralegal—taken several of their favorite plants, and moved out of Brooklyn and into a tiny studio in the West Village, where they'd been cohabitating for just over a month.
Sarah finished the blessing over the wine and the bread. The platters of food had made their first trip around the table (Ari, Sarah noticed, helped himself to the largest piece of breast meat and both of the wings) when Ruby, beaming blissfully, took her boyfriend by the hand. "Gabe and I have some news," she said.
Sarah felt a freezing sensation spread from her heart to her belly. She forced her mouth into a smile as she turned to Ruby and her young man, thinking that, if the news was what she thought, it wasn't good news. She shot a quick, desperate look down the table, in Eli's direction, hoping for a nod, a shared glance, any kind of gesture or expression that would say I understand how you feel and I agree, or—even better—I will shut down this foolishness, don't you worry. But Eli was looking at his plate, completely oblivious as he chewed, the way he'd been completely oblivious for more than a year.
"What's that, honey?" Sarah asked, even though the heavy, frozen feeling inside her chest told her that she already knew.
"Gabe and I are getting married!" Ruby said. Her expression was exultant, her pale cheeks were flushed. Beside her, Gabe wore his usual good-natured, affable look—more like a man excited because he'd learned that tonight's dessert was his favorite than a man who'd found his life partner, the woman for whom he'd forsake all others, Sarah thought. His dark hair looked a little unruly, his deep-set dark-brown eyes seemed sleepy. Sarah had always felt like Gabe was more of a contemporary of Miles and Dexter than he was a young man, ready to take a wife and, presumably, start a family. Not that Gabe wasn't a good guy. He was. He was well-mannered and considerate, supremely easygoing. He never got angry, and he almost always looked pleased. Or maybe he just looked stoned. Sarah had never been able to tell, and these days, with pot being legal, she couldn't complain about the smell that had sometimes seeped down the stairs from the attic when Ruby and Gabe had been in residence. It's no different than having a beer, Eli had told her, and Sarah agreed intellectually, but somehow it still felt different, illicit and wrong.
"Way to go, man!" said Ari, extending his hand across the table so Gabe could high-five him. "Up top!" he said to Ruby, who grinned and slapped his palm.
"Can we be in the wedding?" asked Dexter. Dexter, their older boy, looked like his father, tall and lanky and a little clumsy, with big feet and curly hair and elbows that always seemed to find the nearest pitcher or water glass.
"We can be best men!" said Miles. Miles was more compactly built than his brother, with fine brown hair, and his movements were careful and precise as he maneuvered his silverware.
"We've got an even better job for you guys," said Ruby. "We're going to get married in July, on the Cape. I already asked Grandma, and she says it's fine. She knows it's my favorite time of year there . . ."
". . . so soon!" Sarah blurted, then gulped at her wine. Ruby had always been a determined, headstrong girl. She hated to be thwarted; hated the words No, or Let's think it over, or, worst of all, Slow down. Even a whiff of a hint that her stepmother opposed this match, or thought that Ruby, at twenty-two, was too young to marry anyone, would have Gabe and Ruby at City Hall with a marriage license by week's end. Even worse: Ruby had told Sarah's mother before she'd told Sarah herself. Sarah's face got hot. She felt the iciness dig more deeply into her midriff; a tightness toward the back of her throat that had gotten too familiar during the pandemic, a feeling she'd ascribed to too much togetherness.
Sarah had met Ruby fourteen years ago, when Ruby was just eight years old, a skinny, pigtailed girl walking down the hall of the Manhattan Music School, where Sarah was the executive director. She'd noticed Ruby right away. Or, rather, she'd noticed Ruby's father, tall, bespectacled, and a little awkward, one of a handful of men in the sea of women; towering over most of the moms and nannies who sat, waiting on the benches outside the kids' classrooms.
"Miss Sarah, do you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend?" Ruby had asked one day after class, staring up at Sarah very seriously as her father blushed and murmured about manners.
"Not at the moment," Sarah had said.
"My dad makes excellent grilled-cheese sandwiches," Ruby said. "I think you should come to our house and let him make you one."
Sarah had been charmed . . . and then Eli had put his hand on Ruby's shoulder, gently steering her toward the other kids, saying, "I've got it from here."
Eli had taken Sarah to dinner that Saturday night, and to a Philip Glass concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music the following week. Even though Sarah had never pictured herself marrying a man more than ten years her senior, a man who was divorced, with full custody of a child, employed as a periodontist. Back when she'd made lists of what she wanted in a husband, any one of those qualities would have been an automatic disqualifier. She'd wanted a man her age, unencumbered, in the arts, somehow, a painter or a writer or a musician, not a man who did root canals and gum grafts for a living.
But Eli won her over with his steadiness and maturity and his appreciation for the world Sarah had once hoped to inhabit. He read reviews and began following classical-music blogs. He took her to hear chamber music concerts and piano recitals, where he was unstinting in his admiration for the musicians. When she'd asked if he'd ever taken lessons, he'd shaken his head. "Two years of recorder. No talent whatsoever. But I love it. And someone has to be the audience, right?" he'd said. "We can't all be soloists." She'd smiled, a little sadly, because once, that had been her plan, but she'd put that dream away, long ago. She loved the way Eli noticed what she liked, the way that he took care of her. If they went out and the weather turned cold, he'd wrap her up in his jacket and insist that she wore it home. If he noticed her enjoying a certain vintage at dinner, he'd have a bottle sent to her house the next night. He bought her clothes without asking her for her sizes (later she learned that he'd discreetly asked her best friend); he gave her a pair of beautiful gold and amethyst earrings to mark their first month of what he called "going steady." Best of all was his devotion to Ruby. A man who loved his daughter, who was a good father, would be a good husband, too.
She'd been right, for the most part. Eli had been a wonderful husband, even if Ruby had been a handful early on. Ruby, who'd liked Sarah just fine when she was Miss Sarah at music school, had resented Sarah terribly when things went from being theoretical to actual, and when Sarah went from being a fun companion who showed up on the weekends and took Ruby to get mani-pedis or tea to a full-time, live-in partner to Ruby's father, who made sure that Ruby did her homework, cleared her dishes, and finished her chores.
Sarah persevered through the resentment and nastiness, the tantrums and tears. She'd made allowances after Eli told her that Ruby's mother, Annette, had walked out before Ruby's first birthday. She'd done her best to ignore it, to not be hurt when Ruby made rude remarks or hid her house keys or left unflattering drawings of Sarah (her chin extra-pointy, her mouth gaping wide, presumably mid-yell) lying around where Sarah was sure to find them. She hadn't flinched whenever Ruby made a point of correcting anyone who got it wrong: Sarah's not my real mother. It had taken Sarah years of patience, years of ignoring slights large and small, years of extending her hand and having it slapped away, to finally arrive at the moment, right around her thirteenth birthday, when Ruby had softened and began to let her in.
It hadn't hurt, Sarah thought, that Annette, Ruby's biological mother, had remained supremely uninterested in parenting. Annette, who had no actual career and no permanent address, had always focused on herself and her passions, whatever they currently were: learning to throw pottery or to apply henna designs, performing slam poetry in Seattle, or building costumes for an avant-garde theater company in Brazil. Annette's creative pursuits came first, her romantic partners came second. Her only child might not have even made the list.
And now Ruby was getting married! Maybe if Sarah had been Ruby's birth mother, she'd have been comfortable telling Ruby no, she was too young to be promising her entire life to someone; that her brain was not done baking; that she still had the whole world to see and explore. Her father and her biological mother could have said those things, and Ruby might have listened, but Sarah, as a stepmother, had to keep quiet, knowing that if she spoke up she'd only send Ruby running faster in the wrong direction.
"We don't want a big wedding," Ruby was saying, with Gabe's hand still clasped in hers. "Just family and our closest friends. There's not a lot of planning that we need to do. So there's really no reason to wait." Daintily, Ruby speared a drumstick from the platter and set it beside the salad that filled half of her plate.
"What about your dress?" Sarah managed. "And flowers? You'll need a caterer . . . and invitations can take weeks. Months!" Maybe she could convince Ruby that there were actual, practical reasons why this plan would never work. Sarah cast her mind back to her own big day. She'd been twenty-eight, and she and her mother had spent six months figuring out the details of her wedding to Eli. There'd been a rehearsal dinner at her parents' house in Truro, then the ceremony on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and, finally, the reception at a vineyard, underneath a tent, on a gorgeous night in early September, when the air was still soft and full of the smell of summer rose hips, the bay still warm enough for skinny-dipping. Late at night, after their rehearsal dinner, she and Eli had gone down to the beach. They'd taken off their clothes and slipped into the water. I thought it was bad luck to see the bride the night before the wedding, he'd said, pulling her close. So close your eyes, she'd whispered back, and pressed the length of her body against his.
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