THE SUMMER WIVES by Beatriz Williams combines romance, secrecy, and suspense.  As with all her books she concentrates on a mystery, the murder of a rich playboy, and social issues, class conflicts. Intertwined within the plot are complex relationships that connect all the characters.

The setting plays an important role in this novel, just as it had in William’s blockbuster novel, A HUNDRED SUMMERS. Both take place on an island with an obvious clash between the haves and have nots, where all are determined to keep the outside world from its shores. In this book, Winthrop Island, off the New England coast, is the summer retreat for the old wealth and elite and the yearly home of the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers as well as their families.

The story is centered around Miranda Schulyer, told in different time frames. In 1951, she was an eighteen-year-old just graduating high school, and then it fast forwards to 1969 where she is a thirty-six-year-old actress.  All the incidents in the book go back to how Miranda was affected by them, whether the death of her father, the murder of her step-father, the relationships between Joseph and Isobel, also Miranda’s sister by marriage, and her true love, Joseph.

The book delves into the themes of heroism, sacrifice, and redemption within the self-contained society. In some ways, it will remind people of the thirties movies, as love conflicts with power.

Elise Cooper:  Do you know anybody from that culture?

Beatriz Williams: Being from the West Coast and coming to the East I felt like an anthropologist exploring a foreign culture.  My husband’s family is steeped in the New England culture.  Sometimes I feel like an outsider looking in.

EC:  The setting, Winthrop Island, is a very important piece to the story?

BW:  It is inspired by Fisher’s Island, which is off the coast of Connecticut. Until the early 1920s it was purely farm land.  It was then developed where half of the island has beautiful homes and a golf course. Older money came there to escape and use it as a retreat. Families came there year after year during the summer, mingling only with themselves.  They went to the Island to build silos around themselves.

EC:  Did you ever travel there?

BW:  It was very difficult to research because people don’t like to talk about Fisher’s Island.  Most of the Island is behind a guard’s booth and it is isolated since the only way to get there is by ferry.

EC:  You explored the haves and the have nots?

BW:  There was symbiotic relationship between the summer residents and the year-round residents, made up of the working class.  The differences included religion, Catholicism of the ordinary folks, and the Episcopal Church of the WASP culture that was only opened during the summer.  In addition, there was a class and wealth difference.  I wanted to explore all these disparities.

EC:  How is your Island different from the real Fisher’s Island?

BW:  Winthrop Island has the lighthouse in a different spot.  I made a central spot of the harbor with shops. Geographically it is not the same. I fictionalized the families and drama. The Clubhouse fire and the scene on the beach were drawn from an actual incident, although I changed some things.

EC:  You refer to this Generation of the 1940s -1950s?

BW:  Those who fought in World War II were from the elite class of leaders in the military, political, and industrial world.  But during the years the story takes place in they chose to exist on the money their grandparents made.  They essentially became spectators instead of participants.  This generation prized itself on preservation rather than innovation, so they became static.  The future does not belong to people who don’t want to change.  They never questioned the values of society.  I chose 1969 because of the moon landing.  It has the symbolism of showing that this generation were just deep spectators.  Once they went into preservation mode they wrote off their own relevance.

EC:  Do you think you were critical of this generation?

BW: I did not want to take down this culture. I don’t want to look at the past through a modern lens.  Our ancestors’ experiences should be understood only through their eyes, and I chose to slip into their skin. I wanted to give the readers a mirror where they can reflect on those views.

EC:  How would you describe Clay Monk?

BW:  He was engaged to Miranda’s step-sister, but they never ended up getting married.  He is from Boston and is part of the Department Store fortune.  Handsome, a war hero, and a wonderful guy.  He has proven himself to rise to the occasion and took responsibility seriously.

EC:  You refer to the Shakespeare play, “The Tempest?”

BW:  I used it because it took place on an island.  Actually, Shakespeare had a lot of stories that took place on islands.  It is a link between the play and my story. This book quote explains why her dad named her Miranda after the character in “The Tempest,” ‘Prospero’s daughter, raised alone by her magician father on an unchartered island of fairies and strange creatures.  I used to wonder why he chose that particular character, that particular daughter, that particular play. I think it had something to do with the sea.’

EC:  How would you describe Miranda?

BW:  She is honest, steady, and naïve. Having suffered a painful loss, deeply wounded and affected her.  She is an outsider that is not from a wealthy family, who is gentle, sensitive, and private.  Miranda became an actress to become someone else so she doesn’t have to be herself for a little while.

EC:  How did you come up with the name Carroll Goring and how would you describe him?

BW:  He is strong, arrogant, magnetic, and a narcissist. I based him on arrogant British film directors.  I actually found a British film director with the same first name.

EC:  There are some MeToo moments even though the movement did not exist then?

BW:  It was not even at its strength when I finished the book.  The man who gets murdered, Hugh Sr., can be considered someone who should be accused of it as well as Goring.  I read about how actresses would send in their resumes to directors with notations, ‘DRR,’ Director’s Rights Respected.  This meant ‘I am willing to sleep with a director to get a role.’  Directors then and now have supreme control over the actress.

EC:  How would you describe Joseph’s mother, Bianca, that had the affair with Hugh Sr.?

BW:  She was an orphan who was made to feel as a charity case.  She has deep resentment and is very bitter.  She felt betrayed by Hugh, this rich and gorgeous man.

EC:  How would you describe Joseph?

BW:  I do not think we ever really get inside his head.  He remains a mystery, partly because he was raised on an island in an island, the lighthouse.  His mother Bianca is deeply unhappy.

EC:  How would you describe Isobel?

BW:  In some ways she is child-like.  Outwardly she has self-confidence and feels she should have been born twenty years earlier.  Isobel has this desire for adventure but doesn’t want to give up money and privilege.  She doesn’t have the guts to walk off the island like Miranda did.  Overall temperamental, moody, and strong-willed.

EC:  Can you give a shout-out about your next books?

BW:  I collaborated with authors Lauren Willig and Karen White on a book out in September called THE GLASS OCEAN. It is set on the last voyage of the Lusitania, and goes back and forth between the perspective of someone in the present day and two characters on the ship. It will have intrigue, romance, and espionage. There are links in it to the movie made by Goring, starring Miranda, “Night Train t Berlin.” My next solo book will take place in the Bahamas during World War II.  Remember the Governor was Edward after he abdicated. It will have Stefan Silverman from Along the Infinite Sea make a little appearance.  The main focus is on his half-brother who has a German mother and an English father.




Beatriz Williams

William Morrow Pub.

July 10th, 2018