A SUMMER OF GOOD-BYES begins with Ben Alto and his wife Lee, both artists, struggling with infertility, as they seek to adopt a Russian orphan baby named Mikhail Alexandrovich. Misha’s adoption and growth into a healthy, happy boy anchors their family in love- but Lee’s confession of an affair with a longtime friend upends things again. Uncertain of their choices in life, the family goes to Provence for a vacation – and Ben comes into contact again with the woman he once thought of as the love of his life, Anne-Marie, who is caring for her dying lover, a jazz musician named Zach. In this tangle of relationships, regrets, and paths not taken, Ben must decide for himself whether his choices have brought him to the right place and the right life.
A SUMMER OF GOOD-BYES is an artistic book, a series of moments and events captured in brilliant, rich emotional color. The book drifts gently backwards and forwards in time, drawing connections and illuminating key events as the story goes on. The characters’ interactions with each other are shaded in a soft emotional haze of love, regret, forgiveness, and grief, with the anger of Anne-Marie’s daughter Celestine and occasionally, Ben and Lee’s marriage difficulties adding sharper, harsher notes in places for contrast.
The writing is lyrical, as lovely as the setting, which is so vividly and lovingly drawn as to be almost a character in its own right. The first-person perspective brings the reader directly into Ben’s thoughts and emotions, as he tries to figure out whether or not he made a wrong turning in life or whether he is exactly where he is supposed to be. The result is not so much a story as a philosophical study in prose, musing on love, relationships, family, art, loss, and what it means to dedicate one’s life to a person, a family, a calling. There is a warmth to the book, a readiness to forgive human failings and a generous acceptance of others’ struggles, that makes it a very appealing read.
A SUMMER OF GOOD-BYES is a touching, bittersweet novel infused with the grace and loveliness of the French countryside.