Provincetown takes center stage in Jamie Brenner’s latest novel, Summer Longing, a follow-up to The Forever Summer, which is also set here. Brenner writes novels about families and relationships, page-turners that are tailor-made for beach reading.
“When I was thinking about where to set my first beach book, The Forever Summer, I saw Michael Cunningham on CBS Sunday Morning, and he called Provincetown an ‘eccentrics sanctuary — it’s one of the very few places that prefers peculiarity.’ And I decided that I’ve got to see this place, because, I thought, what better location to set a story than in a town that has that kind of personality?”
Residents of Provincetown will find no argument with Brenner’s depiction of the place. She includes many familiar locales, restaurants, streets, and landmarks, and even readers who have never been here will get a true sense of the town’s vitality, charm, and uniqueness. This is not the lurid playground of Hightown on Starz.
Summer Longing, published by Little, Brown on May 5, has curtailed its planned book tour due to the Covid-19 epidemic. “I am disappointed that I can’t be in Provincetown to launch this book,” says Brenner. “I feel terribly for the businesses in town. And, of course, I’m worried about bookstores everywhere!” Instead, Brenner will be doing a virtual book reading via Zoom (for East End Books Ptown) this Saturday.
Brenner grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. Every Saturday, her father would take her to one of several local bookstores, and by the time she had reached eighth grade, she had read every Judy Blume book published. She soon discovered books by Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz.
“My parents didn’t know that I shouldn’t really have been reading those books,” Brenner says. “But books like Scruples gave me a sense of the larger world outside of my suburban bubble, in which women could lead big lives. Growing up, the message was: to be a good girl, get married, have a kid, and be a good wife. The alternative message came from those books.”
Hoping to become a writer, Brenner entered a journalism contest as a high school junior that brought the contestants to a newsroom. A journalist she met there advised her to get a degree in English, not journalism. So she majored in literature at George Washington University.
“One of my good friends, Dana Bash, did do journalism, and now she’s a correspondent for CNN,” Brenner says. “I was an English major and now I am a writer. Who says college doesn’t matter!”
After college, Brenner moved to New York and worked as a publicist for Harper Collins, and eventually as a literary agent. That job set her on the path to becoming an author.
“I got a really good sense of how the industry works — that everyone starts with an idea and a manuscript,” she says. “And I just decided that I didn’t want to wait any longer, so I wrote my first book in 2012, called The Gin Lovers, which is no longer in print.”
All of Brenner’s books center on family sagas and beach towns. “Family life is the ultimate origin of all drama and strife,” says Brenner, who has two daughters. “It’s endless fodder —parents and children, siblings. The struggle for most people is how you keep all these balls in the air. In real life, you don’t always have happy endings or reconciliations. But in a book, we can take the characters to the extremes of conflict and bring them back to a happy place.”
The beach was always an inspiration for Brenner. Growing up, her grandparents had a beach house on the Jersey Shore. Every summer, her family would make the hour-and-a-half drive and spend the season in a tiny one-bedroom condo. “We were all packed in there, and by the end of the summer, we had coped with each other, and resolved many issues. They were some of my happiest memories.”
When Brenner first came to Provincetown, she stayed at the Anchor Inn, which became the Beach Rose Inn, the fictional bed-and-breakfast where she set The Forever Summer. The launch of the book, in 2018, was at East End Books Ptown, and owner Jeff Peters invited Meghan O’Connor of the local tea shop the Captain’s Daughters to the event. O’Connor served a special tea she called “Forever Summer.” Brenner became intrigued with her and co-owner Dani Niedzielski, and the tea shop is now incorporated into Summer Longing.
To further enhance her story, Brenner researched the business of farming oysters in town. A friend put her in touch with Lory Santos of Detail Fish, who took Brenner out on the tidal flats. Brenner began to get a sense of how interconnected things are in Provincetown.
Summer Longing focuses on the pain of having children and how it affects relationships — between mother and daughter, and also between a same-sex couple as they struggle with becoming parents. “I wanted to explore motherhood in all its forms,” Brenner says.
There are moral dilemmas, intergenerational conflicts, and life-changing events. “I couldn’t set this story anyplace else,” Brenner says. “It’s a story about second chances and starting over.”
In a Summer Place
The event: Virtual Reading/Talk by Jamie Brenner, author of Summer Longing
The time: Saturday, May 9, at 5 p.m.
The place: East End Books Ptown, live-streaming via Zoom
The cost: Free; registration required at eventbrite.com (search “Jamie Brenner”); order signed copies of Summer Longing, $28, in advance at eastendbooksptown.com