Memories Are Made Of This:
The year 1969 was an eventful one for the US– the Apollo 11 moon landing, the continuing tumult of the Vietnam War, the Manson murders, Stonewall riots, Woodstock, Senator Ted Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick scandal.
Elin Hilderbrand’s historical novel, Summer of ’69, weaves in some of these landmark events into the story of the Foley-Levin clan, ruled over strict matriarch, Exalta, aka Nonny. Her summer home in Nantucket– All’s Fair– is the main setting of the emotional upheavals involving her daughter Kate Levin and her four children, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, from her first marriage, to Wilder Foley, a war veteran, who shot himself, and Jessie, 13, her daughter by her kindly second husband, David Levin.
Tiger has been drafted and sent to Vietnam from where he writes only to Jessie, who ends up becoming the receptacle of the family’s woes, when she can barely carry the burden of her own angst. Kirby, the rebellious one, chooses to take up a job in the nearby island of Martha’s Vineyard (near Chappaquiddick, where Ted Kennedy abandoned young campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne to drown in his car following an accident), instead of joining the family in Nantucket, and falls in love with a black man, knowing their relationship will cause problems on both sides.
Blair, who threw over her charming boyfriend Joey to marry his brother, a depressive scientist, Angus, is pregnant with twins and very unhappy, while her husband works on Apollo 11. The oversensitive Jessie, forced by Nonny to take tennis lessons at her snooty club, fights sexual harassment by her coach, has borderline kleptomania caused by loneliness, develops a crush on Pick Crimmins, the free-spirited grandson of Exalta’s caretaker, whose hippie mother disappeared and might surface at the music festival—the now iconic Woodstock. The family drama is punctuated with class snobbery, anti-Semitism, racism, Kate’s alcoholism caused by Tiger’s deployment, and Nonny’s secret life.
Hilderbrand packs a lot of romance, heartbreak, hope, regret, guilt and teenage trauma into the book, that is populated by a bunch of likeable characters—including starchy Nonny, who turns out to have a heart after all.
There is buckets full of nostalgia too—all the chapters headings are take from songs of the time—Born To Be Wild, Fly Me To The Moon, Those Were The Days and so on—a killer playlist. The Seventies were around the corner, and Hilderbrand captures the start of the psychedelic decade, “”Sliding screen doors open onto one long room with stark white walls and white beams. The furniture is modern and curvy. Against one wall is a lipstick-red sofa that looks like a woman lying on her side; it’s flanked by two shell chairs, one turquoise, one electric lime green.” Savor the descriptions of food, fashion dreamy beach holidays and first love.
Summer of 69
By Elin Hilderbrand
Publisher: Little, Brown