cover image Summer People

Summer People

Marge Piercy. Summit Books, $19.45 (380pp) ISBN 978-0-671-67856-2

Related in an absorbingly leisurely fashion, Piercy's latest (after Gone to Soldiers ) is an old-fashioned novel in the sense that it doesn't tell a flashy story but delves into character and relationships, slowly weaving a richly nuanced tale. For over a decade, Willie Dewitt, a sculptor and sometime carpenter, and his wife Susan, an emotionally fragile fabric designer, have maintained a harmonious marriage while each has been the lover of Dinah, a flutist and avant-garde composer. This unusual menage a trois occupies adjoining houses overlooking a pond on Cape Cod, sharing a compound with manipulative wheeler-dealer Tyrone Burdock and, this summer, a Boston doctor and his seductive wife. The plot segues back and forth among the major characters--who include Tyrone's suddenly widowed daughter, the Dewitt's prodigal son, newly separated from his wife, and a celebrated flutist who woos Dinah. A rumination on the nature of sexual love and friendship, and of artistic creativity and commitment, the narrative is fleshed out with details that create versimilitude to daily life. Susan's envy of the summer people erodes her hitherto stable relationships and leads to a slowly gathering but inevitable tragedy. Piercy eschews sensationalism in portraying her unorthodox trio; her characterizations are solid and believable. Some readers may find the story's pace too deliberate, but those who like to ponder the ways in which character influences fate will welcome this solidly satisfying novel. (June)