Summer reading kicks off early this year with the publication of "The High Season" (Random House, 416 pp., $27) by Stony Brook author Judy Blundell. The novel opens in Orient Point on Memorial Day weekend, when this North Fork town — a place of "pies and parades and stony beaches that hurt your feet, banging screen doors and peaches eaten over the sink" — prepares for its annual invasion by the rich and famous. Blundell's main character, Ruthie Beamish, is the director of a small museum but makes ends meet by renting out her house every summer. This summer, though, her tenant, the widow of a famous artist, takes a lot more than Ruthie was planning to give.
The year-rounders vs. the summer people — it's a classic Long Island story. How do you expect locals to react to the novel?
I think Long Islanders will get a huge kick out of it. We all love to read about where we live, and the people who have been here a long time have seen so much change. Reading about that change, if I got it right, should be really entertaining, while also illuminating the real stresses that have come along with it. On one hand, the North Fork is constantly fighting against becoming the new Hamptons, but on the other, its residents are economically dependent on what happens here every summer.
So is the plot inspired by a real situation?
My husband and I lived in Montauk in the '90s. We moved there in January, when it was really pretty deserted except for the year-rounders, then when the summer came and the whole explosion happened, we knew people who rented out their houses and moved in with family or lived in a trailer. That lodged in my head and stayed there until I started crafting "The High Season." Ruthie has to rent out her house every summer in order to afford to live in it. On one hand it's hugely lucky to get that extra income, but on the other it's kind of depressing to have to leave your house during the most glorious months of the year.
What about the small museum that Ruthie directs — is that real?
The museum in the book is a composite of the many small regional museums I have gotten to know in my years as an art spouse. Currently, my husband directs the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook; we live across the street. Museum workers are wonderful storytellers, and all the details and anecdotes and conversations I've heard over the years went into this writer's brain and came out as a totally fictitious place and plot.
Talk about the role of social media in your book.
There are three points of view in "The High Season." One is Ruthie, who's in midlife; there's Doe, a millennial with a secret Instagram account; there's Ruthie's daughter, Jem, who's 15.
Doe is a museum worker, which means she doesn't make much money, but she has infiltrated the upper social circles of the Hamptons and takes pictures with her iPhone that she posts online and also sells, when she can, to local publications. Her goal is to have a million followers by the end of the summer. She manages to get herself personally involved with a very wealthy family, gaining closer access than she's ever had before.
As for Jem, I had the idea for this book when my own daughter was just a baby. But as the years went by, I came to realize that the life of a teenager is in her phone, that it contains secrets her parents will never crack. Eventually I decided to tell Jem's story entirely through her texts. And then one day Ruthie casually picks up her daughter's phone and sees a text that she shouldn't see.
Your previous books were for young adults. What inspired you to write an adult novel?
The story I wanted to tell is an adult story, about parenthood, marriage betrayal and risk. But I set out consciously to use all the tricks I'd learned in writing for middle grades. There's no more reluctant reader than a 14-year-old — you have to have a propulsive kind of plot where something twists or turns every four pages. The idea was to marry that dynamic to an adult literary novel, to make it as difficult as possible to put down the book.
What are you working on now?
Another adult novel set on Long Island. I'm superstitious, so I won't say more.
Judy Blundell discusses 'The High Season'
WHEN | WHERE Thursday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m., East Meadow Public Library, 1886 Front St.
INFO Free, 516-794-2570, eastmeadow.info