Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek

The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek
367 pages
Published February 2010 by Harper Collins
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Richard is a one-hit wonder playwright who continues to live the life of a playwright despite his lack of success and Marilyn is a theater actress who's seen better days when we are first introduced to the Haas family. To say that they are neglectful parents is an understatement. Their four children, Finn, Kate, George and Amy, are left to fend for themselves most of the time. Kate, being the oldest daughter, takes on the responsibilities of mother. The back cover of the book calls her a "Daddy's girl," but it would be more accurate to say that she desperately wants to be "Daddy's girl". Unfortunately, Richard never seemed to have much time for any of his children. Kate is also an overachiever and a perfectionist. Finn is clearly Marilyn's favorite, despite his addictive and destructive behavior. But it's George, who is gay, that always rushes to Marilyn's defense. Amy, the baby of the family, is George's closest ally and the child who always ends up helping her parents.

The book is told from each of the children's perspective with an epilogue from Marilyn's point of view. Amy's story begins the summer preceding her senior year of high school, the summer the family fell apart. Finn and Richard have gone on a trip to Europe, Kate is away at college and Miriam has arrived at the family's home. Miriam--whose exact reason for being there is unclear, except that Richard has sent her there as a foreign exchange student. When Finn shows up unexpectedly, after a fight with Richard, he and Miriam begin a relationship that will last for years as she struggles to help him deal with his demons. Amy's section skips years as the chapters progress, giving the reader a look into the family dynamic. In the final chapter, Amy is happily settled in New York City with boyfriend Owen, when she is called in to care for Richard as his battle with a brain tumor comes to an end. Finally the four children come together, as adults, for their father's funeral, and it doesn't exactly bring out the best in them.

In George's section, the reader sees George as a teacher in a wealthy prep school, alone and frustrated by the lack of interest shown by his students. As the advisor for the one student that does show potential, Asa, it falls to George to have a conference with Asa's father, Sam. As soon as George meets Sam, he is smitten and the bulk of George's section is devoted to the relationship that develops between the three of them.

Kate's section deals a lot with her one-time fiance, Eli, and her inability to move on emotionally. When Eli shows up at Richard's funeral, Kate is plunged into the past. She dwells on the time she and Eli were happily living in Italy until Richard came for a visit and set Kate on another course. Kate, who is now a lawyer, takes a transfer to head up the firm's California branch. She's surprised to find that the only place she wants to live is a major fix-er-upper, not unlike the house where she grew up. With Finn's experience in construction, she decides to ask him to come help her, knowing that it may also be the chance Finn needs to get his life together.

Finn's is the last chapter. We pick up with him after he returns from California. With no where else to go, and with Marilyn gone, Finn has moved into her apartment where the doorman has befriended him. Finn, unable to overcome his addictions, can't get a job, can't eat without becoming sick and has become suicidal.

Antalek's did a wonder job of putting me into the scene and making me care about the Haas children. Like this scene where the four children and disposing of their father's ashes:

"The urns were smaller than I expected and I held mine in the palms of my hands like a coffee mug. I tried to pretend that it wasn't pieces of my father and when I couldn't convince myself of that, I became fixated on what part of him I did have. I hated to think of him all jumbled together like a Picasso painting. "

Although the book moves through each of the four children's point of view, the reader is always being carried forward and the different children appear in each other's sections. It allows Antalek to examine each character's relationship with the other as they try to become the family they've never been.

My only real complaint with the book was the very frank sex scenes that some readers may find offensive. Just as I think that there isn't a need for so much sex in some movies, I felt like some of the detail here could have been left out as well without effecting the story. I found it interesting that the places this was most prominent in where in George and Finn's sections and I wondered if Antalek felt that men would be more likely to think in this way.

I think there is much here for book clubs to discuss, but you definitely need to make sure your club is not squeamish about sex scenes. Finn's section is also very raw which may bother some readers.

Thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I'm looking forward to reading more from Antalek. To learn more check out these sites:




  1. Sounds like there is a lot here to be picked apart and enjoyed. I love that! Was just in the book store today and I remember seeing this cover which is very eye catching.

  2. Excellent review Lisa. this does sound like a book I would enjoy and the sex scenes don't bother me. Death always seems to make family fall apart doesn't it?

  3. I think I'd like to try this book at some point; love the cover, and your review was great!

  4. Thanks for the review. I appreciate you pointing out the sex scenes might be offensive. I don't mind a sex scene if it's an integral part of the story (the sex tape scene in Testimony by Anita Shreve) but I don't like a lot of gratuitous or graphic sex.

  5. I really enjoyed this book! Great review!

  6. Your review is the first I've read that even mentioned the sex scenes. It's good to know though because my book club is squeaky clean and it would offend them to no end. Not me though. I'm tainted!

  7. Wow, that's a lot of characters to take in! Sounds like an interesting read!

  8. Seems like there is a lot going on in this book! And I will definitely like it if I go for it!

    I am glad that the book cover goes well with the story as well!

  9. One great thing about reading book blogs is finding out about books I have to read--another is finding out about books that I will never read but still want to know about. I'm thinking this book falls into the latter category. Great review of a book that is not quite my cup of tea, but I enjoyed the review immensely.

    Btw, I’ve given you the Prolific Blogger award. Visit me at http://janegs.blogspot.com/2010/02/prolific-blogger-award.html for details.

  10. Great review! Just saw this one at the bookstore and may have to pick it up now after reading your review. Hope you have a great weekend! :)

  11. I can't wait to read this book - I forgot to bring it with me to Boston last weekend :(

  12. Books like this are interesting to me in that I like seeing the various points of view. There's that saying that goes something like, "There's what he said happened, there's what she said happened, and there's what really happened."

    Thanks for being on this tour! I love your review. :)

  13. Just finished this one last night and absolutely loved it! The details were so cutting and descriptive -- I feel like I'll always remember certain passages in the book. Antalek's voice was unique, and I cared for each of the Haas siblings by the end -- even Kate. Great review!