Taking place over a single summer in an abandoned Massachusetts summer camp, this quietly menacing novel explores the sting of seduction, unspoken female rage, and how desire and ambition shift over time to reveal the “undercurrents between our younger and older selves” (O, The Oprah Magazine).
After Emily inherits an abandoned summer camp in Massachusetts just before her fortieth birthday, she and her husband David move onto the property with grand plans to fix it up. Instead, Emily finds herself drifting, grieving her recent miscarriage and her own perceived lack of ambition, while David works in the city. Until the day Emily discovers that their new property includes an unexpected guest. Living undetected in one of the cabins is a magnetic twenty-two-year-old named Stella. Their immediate and intense connection expands and contracts over the course of an single summer, calling all of Emily’s relationships, including her marriage, into closer scrutiny.
As the two women begin spending time together―talking and drinking, swimming in the lake, watching seductive French films through long afternoons―Emily finds herself playing at performing various roles relative to Stella: friend, mother, lover. Each encounter they share promises to bring Emily a little closer to an understanding of her own identity, but it also puts her marriage and future at risk. How much does she really know about Stella? Why is Stella here, and what does she want, and what might she take with her, if and when she leaves?
Named one of the best books of the summer by O, The Oprah Magazine, this “sun-saturated tale of love and longing” is a “smart, funny, nuanced and seductive” read (Chicago Tribune). Startling yet dreamlike, The Summer Demands marks Deborah Shapiro as a master at capturing complex relationships and the electricity of what passes unsaid between people.
Deborah Shapiro was born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Sight Unseen, Tin House, Literary Hub, and elsewhere. Her first novel, The Sun In Your Eyes, was selected as an Editors' Choice by The New York Times Book Review, as well as one of the season's best reads by Harper's Bazaar, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Chicago Tribune, and Vulture, among others. She lives in Chicago with her family.
“The Summer Demands”, by Deborah Shapiro ....is smoky- sultry- artful in style- captivating - beautifully written- tantalizing & alluring .....a story about seduction that I found seductive to read.
NO SPOILERS.... just hints to tease.....
Emily and David - (married- entering their 40’s) - move from Chicago to Massachusetts to take over an abandoned Summer Camp that Emily inherited from her aunt and uncle. The plan was to restore the camp and turn it into an upscale retreat - host various artists to come - but the reality set in quick of the enormity of the project.
Emily says... “I’d started to think of this place as a falling-down estate owned by a family that had shut it up, fled during the war, leaving us as caretakers. We’d done what we could, David and I, but the playing fields remained overgrown, the tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts all cracked and wild with weeds. The little cove by the lake was filmed with algae. The boathouse, the dining hall, the rec hall, the whitewashed bunks— they were still standing though in need of repair. Most of the bunks here, the original ones were built in a clearing, in a horseshoe shape around a flagpole. But as the camp had grown, two structures were added at the edge of the woods. It was darker and cooler over there, even on a day in July, the sun bright and blazing before noon, an equatorial light”. “Those cabins had always had a secretive quality because they were set apart from the rest of the camp. And when I had been a young camper here, almost 30 years ago these cabins were where the older girls, in all their mysterious glamour, stayed”.
One afternoon - while David was away working - Emily was walking through the old campgrounds. Memories surfaced from when she was a young girl -camper at Adler.
Soon, Emily discovers - Stella....a young 20-something living in bunk 18. The dialogue is great! Not only does Emily ‘not’ call the police -‘or’ tell David about her ‘new friend’ for an entire week....but Emily’s own search for a ‘paying’ job to help with the crazy new expenses are with very lackadaisical efforts. Even ‘less’ motivation to find work since meeting Stella. The two women played *jacks* together. Personally - I loved the little scene of these grown women playing jacks — it brought back fun memories from when my friend, Renee, and I played jacks on the ‘wet-floor’ in the steam room at the Jewish Community Center when we were teens.
Many wonderful reflective enjoyable scenes - conversations - memories - thoughts of the past - concerns for the future.
What is it about summer love? Young summer love? The warm weather and escapism mentality makes it very appealing to have a summer fling. I admit getting that spring/ summer love desire for my youthful days myself. While reading “The Summer Demands”, I took several trips down memory lane. Swimming under water falls in Yosemite.... beach days in Santa Cruz..evening dances with dark tan skin... and memories of those butterfly ‘love’ feelings.
Emily and Stella begin spending time together - swimming in the lake - watching French films - boating - etc. even dinner parties ( David likes Stella too- he is not against her hanging out on his property).... for awhile anyway.
We sense danger... Emily and Stella are crossing risky lines..... We feel the desires between the two women... With intimacy and vulnerability.....comes grief and rage....( no spoilers here)... We have questions...what happens when Stella leaves? What does Stella want? How will David and Emily recover from ‘the summer demands’? We meet other characters... We haven’t forgotten that Emily had recently had a miscarriage before moving to Camp Adler. And....is everyone just fumbling through life? What lessons are to be learned?
I love books like this one. Less than 300 pages... mostly centered around just a few key characters... complex - flawed characters- delicious atmosphere- easy to read - with lovely prose of emotional depth and breadth.
5 strong stars from me.....I simply enjoyed it all! Deborah Shapiro’s first book....”The Sun In Your Eyes”, about a friendship was also very down to earth and relatable also. I enjoy Deborah Shapiro’s writing and quiet contemporary stories very much.
Thank you Asmita from Catapult....a wonderful gift from you - thanks!!!!
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher (Catapult) in exchange for an honest review.
Going into this book, I was very excited to read it because loved the premise. It’s exactly the type of book I like to read. However, the execution left much to be desired.
I didn’t become hooked into the book until about halfway through. That is when things got interesting due to an arrival of a new character. Once that happened, the book ended rather quickly. It felt like there could have been a lot more development in that second half. There was a lot of potential for things to get more complex. I was waiting for it to reach a breaking point, but it never did.
When it came to the characters, I felt like the supporting ones were not fully fleshed out. For example, I never felt like I truly knew much about the main character’s husband, David, and how he felt during the whole thing. I expected there to be more tension surrounding him.
As for the writing, I did like the prose. There was something special about it and it really helped set the tone and mood of the story. The prose also highlighted the mystique of the camp well.
Overall, this book had a lot of potential but it ultimately fell flat.
This wasn't a book about much, and I certainly do not think it is a book for many, but it was a book for me. I don't know if it was the intense inner dialogue or the similarities between Emily and me (as well as our differences), but I found a lot to ponder and to connect with in this short novel. I think I'll forget it, and forget it quickly, but that's just like summer, isn't it? Rich and sometimes intense and full of moments of wonder and pondering and all too quickly over.
Could have been interesting. Forgettable. Would have been better if someone had an affair and this wasn't just about some lady who can't find a job for a summer and meets a new friend. Would have rather read about this couples attempts at renovation.
There are some fortunate women who march forward in life, straightforwardly and clearheadedly, never taking their eye off their ultimate goal. Many, though, are not unlike our narrator, Emily – on the cusp of entering her middle years, still grieving a miscarriage, unable to determine “what she wants to be when she grows up”, and trying to make sense of both her past and her future.
When Emily and her husband arrive to take over an inherited and abandoned Massachusetts summer camp, they find that there is one unexpected addition: a captivating young gay woman named Stella. As Emily strives to find her authentic self, she becomes Stella’s Pygmalion, reinventing herself in the younger woman’s image and simultaneously experimenting with other roles – as her best friend, mother, and even would-be lover.
The premise – the attempt to reframe one’s life and the difference between giving oneself some agency and actually having control – is a fine one, and the scenes between Emily and Stella cackle, with enough self-destruction thrown in for me to shake my head and wonder, “What is she thinking?” The clothing metaphor (Emily is applying for a job as a clothing retail marketer and there are scenes of her donning others’ shirts, for example) works well with the identity theme.
Less successful is the camper girl back story, which, in this case, lifted me from the narrative and – to my mind – didn’t add enough to the overall drama. In places, I felt the propulsion was uneven. My overall rating is 3.5, which I’m rounding up to 4. Thank you, Catapult, for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
The label “beach read” generally connotes a throw-away novel suitable for consumption on vacation: engaging, but not too heavy; nothing that might spoil a person’s holiday vibe. Of course, different people have different preferences in what they like to read at the beach, and Deborah Shapiro’s smart, funny, nuanced and seductive second novel, “The Summer Demands,” just might be this season’s sophisticated option for people who prefer their water-side reading gently sad and cinematically nostalgic.
Every bit as packed with atmospheric wit as one might expect of a book that draws its title from a John Ashbery poem, Shapiro’s story unfolds at an abandoned summer camp along the south shore of Massachusetts, with all that setting’s inherent promise of escape and romance — its ineffable “haze of desire and memory.”
Emily, the first-person narrator, and her husband, David, have inherited this camp — where she “had been a young camper … almost thirty years ago” — from her great-aunt Esther. They originally had ambitions to turn the property into a getaway resort for the “certain demographic” to which they belong: “old enough to know that a swath of popular culture no longer speaks to them, but not so old as to stop identifying as ‘youngish’; city-oriented and with some spare time and income to spend.”
But that plan failed, and now the couple is living in the Director’s House, David going to work in Boston and Emily drifting listlessly around the dreamy, dilapidated landscape, “green and still and slightly grainy. The way it is in foreign films form the 1970s and ’80s.” Directionless and isolated, she is in deep mourning over a recent miscarriage, one that likely means that she’ll never become a mother. Vaguely creative but jobless and 39, she admits, “I’m not exactly sure what it is that I do.”
Or rather, she hadn’t been sure, but when Emily stumbles upon Stella, “playing jacks” in one of the camp’s more secluded structures, her primary pursuit becomes this 22-year-old stranger who’s been squatting there, also attempting to figure out what to do with her own life. Emily finds herself filled with a “weird energy” merely contemplating this mysterious young woman before she even knows her name, keeping her discovery a secret from her husband for almost a week. “Mostly,” Emily thinks, “because she wasn’t putting me in the position of being the uptight, incurious person telling her to leave, I wanted her to stay.”
Stay Stella does, and as the story unfolds over the sultry duration of the season, both David and Emily find themselves closely connecting to this forthright and beautiful young woman of whom Emily thinks, “If she wasn’t worldly, it was only because she hadn’t yet had the opportunity; she already had the outlook.”
Oak Park resident Shapiro’s previous novel, 2016’s “The Sun In Your Eyes,” chronicled the enchantments and disenchantments of intense female friendship, and “The Summer Demands” feels like a logical extension of similarly intricate themes of intimacy and vulnerability.
Here, unlike in that novel, the two main female characters do become — or come quite close to being — romantically involved, with Emily worrying what kind of betrayal, exactly, she might be committing. Whatever it is, it’s enough to cause Emily to feel envious of Stella’s erstwhile girlfriend, Alice — to think absurdly and regretfully of herself and David sitting around a campfire during one of her visits to Stella as “these two middle-aged strangers hogging her marshmallows and weed.”
Happily, material that could become lurid and cruel — one of Emily’s old college friends alludes to the “manipulative libertines” of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” —or even glib and cliché comes across, thanks to Shapiro���s skill, as complicated and affecting, compassionate and humane. “It’s not that she became the object of my desire,” thinks Emily of Stella. “Not exactly. More like she reminded me that longing could sometimes, for an instant, here and there, be met.”
A gorgeously written story of late youth and early middle age, the novel makes the delicate argument that maybe a person can come of age at any age — that maybe everyone is always coming of age all the time.
For more of my book content check out instagram.com/bookalong • I really enjoyed this one! Shapiro's writing is really good, very descriptive. I was pulled in at once. These female characters are really well written. They both had such depth to them. I was facinated by Emily's character because she had this history to her, and a longing for things. While Stella was youthful and had a mystical quality to her that was very bewitching and mysterious. I had to keep reading to find out what would happen to them. Female relationships are so interesting to me. And I love how more women's stories are being published. I would love to see this become a film adaptation. This is the perfect read to kickoff summer!
• Thank You to @catapult for sending me this #ARC. Available June 4th!
This book is essentially an academic romance. That is, it is romance novel that is couched in literary language, feminist treatise, and philosophical thought. In general, I’m not a fan of romance, and that could be why I wasn’t a big fan of this novel.
I did actually enjoy the writing, which was unique—a short, staccato style of prose that verges at times on poetry. The movement between action and exposition (wandering thoughts of the narrator, Emily, who is trying to figure her 40-year-old self out) appealed to me. Shapiro, as others have noted, does a good job creating an atmospheric text that keeps you hanging on, waiting to see what might actually happen next (SPOILER below**).
The issue with the book is that despite the interesting writing and enticing descriptions of the setting, the characters are fairly flat. After finishing the book, I am no closer to knowing Emily and Stella and no closer to understanding the intense draw between the two. They barely have a complete conversation during the course of the book. In keeping with the pared down writing, the conversations are very limited. Other than what Stella looks like (shock of dark hair and blue nails, slight in build), I know very little about her. I actually end up knowing more about her mother than about her. And while I’m no fiction writer, I think the writer needs to give at least a tiny hint for motive of a character’s actions. There is no reflection of that when upon discovering Stella camped out on her property, Emily just basically walks up to her and is like, hey, want to be friends?
Another thing that bothered me was Shapiro’s treatment of Emily’s miscarriage. It is given a certain weight as if it is somehow central to whatever it is that Emily is going through, and yet it is treated as an aside—a kind of blip—through most of the book. It also doesn’t at all ring true to me that this character is actually 40 years old (she seems much, much younger).
It’s not that I don’t “get” the book. It’s a kind of portrait of a “mid-life” (early-mid-life), post-miscarriage crisis. It’s about that kind of summer when you want to be free from whoever you were, shed a skin and try on a new one, if only for those fleeting days. I typically like this kind of narrator self-reflection in a novel, but this one felt empty to me.
(**SPOILER: nothing does happen. For me, though, that’s not necessarily the problem with the novel. I don’t mind static reads that are focused mostly on thought).
There have been books in the vein of a person entering a married couple's life, changing their dynamics in some inexplicable way and exiting just as suddenly as they had entered, leaving not much of a trace. But few manage to handle this in a very interesting way and Deborah Shapiro's The Summer Demands really stands out in that regard. In it, you're following a middle-aged couple, Emily & David, having had a miscarriage a few years previously and unable to conceive a child, move into a large property that Emily inherits from an aunt. This property was previously used a summer camp/retreat for children but has been abandoned for many years and is in a state of disrepair. One summer day while Emily is exploring the grounds she finds a young woman Stella, illegally staying in one of the abandoned camp houses and there begins an interesting equation of interpersonal dynamics that Stella brings in when she enters into Emily and David's orbit.
Shapiro's novel explores the question of identity. Emily as a character almost feels like an outline, a vessel that's been emptied of character and emotion with her miscarriage. She's at a point where she's unsure what to make of her life and who to be or even who she is. With Stella, her identity morphs taking on a new role every day. Sometimes that dynamic seems more of a mother & daughter, sometimes that of friends, and sometimes on the threshold of something more intimate. The novel is a fascinating character study with only the faint thread of a plot. It reminded me of another novel I read in June, English Animals by Laura Kaye. Though plot-wise they are very different, thematically, the influence of a stranger on the lives of a married couple is a strong basis of commonality. It also had a quietly intense atmosphere similar to what you can find in Claire Fuller's work. I loved Shapiro's writing style. A fluid, easy lyricism inherent to the writing without being too try-hard. My only gripe with the novel is that it sometimes digresses into unnecessary threads. In an already plotless novel, that could be a tad distracting. One the whole, I liked it quite a bit. A perfect summer read.
Gave me all the feels of The Big Chill but with a smaller cast of characters.
The Rest of It:
On the verge of her fortieth birthday, Emily inherits an abandoned summer camp from her aunt. She and her husband move there, with the hopes of transforming it into an artist colony. The old, main house is full of charm and memories but the rest of the camp is in need of repair. They both realize it will take quite a bit of resources to get it to where it needs to be. What they don’t immediately realize though is that they already have their first guest.
I really enjoyed The Summer Demands. Emily and her husband are in a good place. Even though she is without a job and trying to find her way again after suffering a miscarriage, Emily is hopeful if not a little lost. But when she stumbles upon Stella, a twenty-something who is essentially squatting on their property, her first reaction is to help her, not oust her and she holds that secret for a little while before telling her husband.
It’s these moments between Stella and Emily that cause so much tension. Female friendships and intimacy, envy, jealousy and longing. Emily is a tad infatuated with Stella but when Stella meets Emily’s husband, Emily notices that everyone she meets is kind of infatuated with Stella. It’s just who she is.
Emily and Stella loll around the camp, swimming, watching movies, and soaking up the sun but as a reader you just know that this idyllic summer must end eventually, and it does. I loved the easiness of this novel. I loved the complexities of female friendships displayed here and I liked how the author explored things without making you feel too strongly about any one thing.
Plus, the setting was great. The lake and the sunlight filtering through the trees. It’s all so palpable. I really enjoyed The Summer Demands but it definitely falls into the “quiet novel” category which I enjoy very much.
The perfect novel to read on a hammock or at the beach. THE SUMMER DEMANDS feels like warm sun on your skin with your eyes closed and the smell of sunscreen. This novel is stunningly written and so astute about intimacy and women's relationships. The setting of an empty summer camp felt both otherworldly and nostalgic. Deborah Shapiro is a gorgeous writer.
I loved Deborah Shapiro's first novel, The Sun in Your Eyes, and The Summer Demands is its languid, dreamy cousin. Nobody does women's interiority like Shapiro. You can read this in a day or you can stretch it out and savor the summer haze, the confusion and desire, the watchful suspense of the will-they-or-won't-they of it all. A beautiful book.
I got an ARC of this book. Deb is a great, descriptive writer that enables you to capture the image of the characters. The women friendships and relationships make you think and feel like you’re a part of it. This book would make a great independent movie.
About to turn 40 and having recently suffered a miscarriage, Emily and husband David move from Chicago to a newly acquired property in MA where Emily spent many a summer growing up. The property was once an old summer camp that belonged to Emily's late aunt. The property is in a state of disrepair but the couple is hoping to turn it into a possible resort.
While David is away and working long hours Emily is unemployed, looking for work and trying to come up with ideas for the property. As she roams the property she discovers a young woman named Stella that has been staying in one of the cabins. Emily befriends Stella and even keeps her presence a secret for a while. When she does tell David, he doesn't seem troubled by her being on the property temporarily. As the two women who are almost a generation apart in age, get to know one another, it seems each is just who the other needs in their life at the moment. Who is the mysterious Stella and what brings her to the area? As the women get to know one another, watching French films, swimming in the lake and spending lazy summer days together opening up in other ways, I couldn't help but wonder how this story would all end.
The novel has a quiet style and was slow paced but, the beautiful summer setting and a writing style that enables you to easily visualize what is going on made it work pretty well. It was a book I read in one sitting and in some ways it reminded my of younger days, those summers gone by and the early female friendships of our past that are a part of who we are today. A nice summer choice overall.
The Summer Demands was quiet and beautiful but you know those books where the author is sharing all sorts of thoughts that you have had but thought no one else had? That was this book for me. Add to that some really lovely writing (and a New England setting...I am a sucker for that) and I was just completely in love with this one.
The main character, Emily, and her husband, David, have recently gone through a miscarriage and moved to an abandoned summer camp in Massachusetts that they inherited from Emily's great aunt. Emily is on the cusp of her fortieth birthday and mourns the loss of motherhood and spends her summer lazing about the summer camp. She encounters Stella, a magnetic 22-year-old who has been staying in one of the cabins. The two form a fast relationship that blurs the lines between friend, lover, and mother.
Shapiro's reflections on youth, aging, and transitions in a woman's life were spot on for me and I found myself underlining so much in this book. Her ability to reflect on what it's like to be in the female brain - especially as we compare ourselves to other females - had me unable to put this book down. She also hit the nail on the head with her reflections on ambition and how that changes as we change and prioritize different things in our lives.
I'm not sure why I finished reading this one, I was really bored throughout, waiting for something interesting to happen. Why a couple living at an old, empty summer camp who come across a young woman living in one of the cabins SHOULDN'T be interesting, I don't know. It does have potential to be interesting, but like so many hyped "it" books of the summer, it doesn't have much in the way of plot.
Because there's no plot, I think this book is "about" ownership -- but rather than a question of "who owns this cabin that you're secretly staying in," it's more about who owns whom in a relationship. Is the young woman flirting with the wife or the husband? Who does she want? Who does the wife want? A married couple comes to visit for dinner, and that brings up memories of who was looking at whom when the couples are making out with each other. Did the other husband want her instead? Then when the young woman's girlfriend shows up, who does she want to be with?
The problem is, I don't care enough about anyone in this novel to really have thoughts about who belongs to who.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Emily and David, a 40-ish couple, grieving the miscarriage of a long-tried-for pregnancy, pull up city stakes and decide to build their life at an abandoned summer camp they’ve inherited. While David finds work in nearby Boston, Emily spends her days wandering through the camp she frequented as a girl, where she discovers Stella, a young woman squatting in one of the cabins. Emily is irresistibly drawn to Stella, her churning thoughts and emotions cycling her through the roles of friend, mother, lover. Highly intelligent Emily is very self-observant and ponders her feelings deeply in liquid, ethereal prose. Deeply evocative of the languid heat and sun-drenched sensations of a summer by the lake.
thanks so much @catapult for sending me this copy of THE SUMMER DEMANDS by deborah shapiro (fiction) penetrating characters in limbo during a moody, sultry summer + atmosphere charged with longing, searching, desire, control • “‘You want to be someone new when you’re seen by someone new. You know what I mean? Really seen. And I think that’s what you miss and what you want at a certain age, when most of your firsts are behind you.’ You want discovery, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud.” • instagram book reviews @brettlikesbooks
I very much enjoyed the mood of this book. Shapiro's novel brings the season of summer to life in a way that I rarely feel stories do. Season and place. Fully realized as to immerse the reader into the middle of Emily's life. If only for a short time, like summer itself.
edit: I decided not to write a lot of specifics about this novel, preferring to leave it to live in the moment of reading, but I do find now several days out from finishing that I miss Stella and even Alice a little bit. Certainly this is the mark of a writer doing her job.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly. I finished it rather quickly. It seemed like everything that happened in these pages could really have happened. I’m not all that thrilled with the ending. Everything wasn’t wrapped up in a perfect bow. But that is also what makes me think that the book was true to life.
It was true literary fiction..a book to ponder over, the get lost in the characters and their inner worlds. The characters were so alive and real and the way they were thrown together was so intimate and interesting..I was engaged in this slice of life and enjoyed very much.