"Summer Rental" by Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin's, 402 pp., $25.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Back in the day, taking a house-rental at the beach was just one step above camping outdoors.
Lumpy matresses, rump-sprung chairs, and assorted castoff furnishings that couldn't even make the cut up to the owners' attic may not have been de rigueur, but were certainly expected.
Such are the bygone conditions in which three best friends from Catholic-school days back in Savannah, Georgia, find themselves for a monthlong August reunion on the beach at Nags Head, North Carolina.
Ellis, the trio's hyper-organized coordinator, has been downsized out of her career as a large-bank marketing manager in Philadelphia.
Married fleetingly and disastrously, fresh out of college, "Elly" has substituted fun with spreadsheets for fun on the sheets.
Thus defined by her work, her life has plunged into a gaping maw of uncertainty.
Julia-- brassy, worldly, and outspoken-- knows that her modeling career has pretty much played out, having been relegated to catalog shots for J.C. Penney's.
However, she's got an attentive, long-term boyfriend, recently relocated from London to D.C., but she's terribly undecided about leaving Mayfair for the Mayflower Hotel, and the "let's buy a house and settle down" commitment that her guy pal is seeking.
Dorrie-- cute, bubbly, and an incorrigible flirt-- has been dealt two major marital surprises.
Her future has been redirected out of her hands, and she must summon the wherewithal to weather the winds of change.
Speaking of surprises and changes, the triumvirate of bosom buddies is settling in for a month full of them, from the moment they pull into the crushed-oyster-shell driveway at Ebbtide, the house they've rented at Nags Head.
First, the house isn't just a dump-- it's a fugly dump.
Then, the fourth member of the house party bails on the group at the last minute, leading Dorrie to land a mysterious renter in order to alleviate the resulting financial pain.
Then, the landlord never bothers to show, and the ladies are disconcerted about the guy who lives in the garage apartment, even though he's quite the hottie.
Mary Kay Andrews, who has set many a novel in Georgia cities and burgs, offers another appetizing read, as Southern-summery as a fresh-from-the-garden-tomato-and-mayo sandwich with plenty of potato chips, and a tall glass of sweet iced tea.
Indeed, she ought to bring these characters back for an encore.
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