The Summer We Came to Life–in Honduras

Chick lit: check.

View from Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Beach read: check

Honduras lit: kinda

Deborah Cloyed’s 2011 novel, The Summer We Came to Life, focuses on four childhood friends, but one of them—Mina–has died. The narrator, Samantha, is starting an artist residency in Honduras as the novel opens, but she is still grieving over the loss of her close friend, taking solace in Mina’s journals that she inherited. Both Mina and Samantha are without mothers—one having died and one having departed the family—and the two are hosted on summer trips by two other single-mother families, thus creating the Vacation Club. The two mothers—Jesse and Lynette (whose daughters Isabel and Kendra complete the childhood quartet) feel a sense of responsibility to all four girls and treat them to exotic locales to teach them that there is more to life than suburbia.

A post-Mina Vacation Club trip starts out shakily with Kendra AWOL as she’s discovered that she’s pregnant, but her perfect boyfriend insists that she have an abortion. Samantha isn’t really sure she’s ready to spend time with her close friends, and she’s debating a proposal to marry a famous French director, Remy. Jesse is falling in love with Mina’s father, Arshan, who is her bridge partner. Lynette is reunited with her husband Cornell after a decade absence when he was with another woman.

The agenda for the Vacation Club is about revealing past lives and secrets. In the beach house rented in Tela, Jesse opens up about her early life as a Vogue model and disastrous marriage to a Panamanian whose family tries to deport her without her daughter. Lynette and Cornell recount how difficult it was to be an interracial couple in 1960s Virginia. Arshan weighs in with his own story of the revolution in Iran, coupled with the loss of his son and wife. And Samantha fantasizes about fabulous sex with Remy, but worries if the relationship is truly marriage-worthy. A healthy dose of mysticism pervades the story.

And what about Honduras? Some information about the Garifuna, a group blended from former slaves and Caribs, is thrown in. Likewise, the erratic driving of Honduran drivers is profiled, and Tegucigalpa, the capital city (moved from the coast where it was in O. Henry’s time due to pirates) gets some mention since Samantha’s apartment is located there. Cloyed spent six months in Honduras on a photographic assignment, so she is familiar with the landscape. But Honduras really serves primarily as exotic locale rather than being integral to the story itself.

I suppose there’s a large readership for the trials and tribulations of the 29 year old woman, but I must admit that after my initial excitement of finding a recent novel set in my vacation destination of Honduras, I much preferred the 19th century writing of O. Henry’s Cabbages and Kings and the memoir of Six Days on the Hurricane Deck of a Mule.

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