Summer's End
by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
(Harper, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-06-101388-9
****
She may not be prolific, but Kathleen Gilles Seidel is definitely a talented contemporary romance author. It's been a long drought for Seidel fans, but I'm pleased to report that Summer's End finds her as gratifying as always. Her bio highlights her Ph.D. in English literature, but I think she should be given an honorary doctorate in psychology to honor her exceptional understanding of human dynamics.

Amy Legend won an Olympic figure skating gold medal and the adoration of the American public at age 19, but seven years later she remains an enigma to the rest of her family. Her father Hal, a college professor, and her older brother and sister are both quiet, deliberate intellectuals. Amy can barely tolerate standing still. She needs the freedom to be adventurous, physical and impulsive. Compared to the other cerebral Legends, she's always considered herself "Amy the Afterthought."

Hal surprises his children by remarrying, several years after the death of Amy's mother. The Legend summer camp in Minnesota Lake country is about to be invaded by Hal's new wife and family and the rustic retreat will never be the same.

Jack Wells likes the challenge of establishing new businesses but hates the routine of running them. He's generous, intuitive, mechanically skilled and a walking fashion disaster. His restless nature was not a good match for his late father, a Navy admiral, and Jack never felt he measured up. When his efficient, organized mother Gwen marries Hal Legend, Jack and his sister Holly make their best effort to fit into the combined family.

Seidel creates entirely believable, real characters and hones in on the small moments that define them. Amy's older brother and sister are threatened by Gwen and the changes she brings to the traditions they have always honored at the lake. Well-established roles are challenged, causing relationships to be re-aligned. For example, this minor interaction terrifies Phoebe, Amy's older, responsible sister:

They had had chili for dinner last night, and when Gwen had carried Mother's heavy stock pot in from the kitchen and realized that there was no trivet to set it on, who had she looked to for help? To Phoebe the one who had always been the right hand, the one who knew where the trivets were? No. Gwen had looked at Holly.

"Holly, quick," she had said. "I need something to put this on."

But that's my job, Phoebe had wanted to cry out. Getting trivets. I am the responsible one, the helpful one. I help Mother and Ellie helps me. That's how it works.

In a family where people's emotions are jeopardized by not being asked to get the trivet, what kind of reaction will occur when Jack and Amy find themselves attracted to each other? Their personalities are a perfect match, and they both understand what it's like to be the outsider in the family. But they are reluctant to disturb the fragile, new balance between the two families, so they try to deny their feelings. Finally, Amy starts to believe that their love might bring the Legends and Wells together instead of keeping them further apart.

Readers who appreciate Seidel's on-target portrayal of the challenges of blending together several generations of two dissimilar families will thoroughly enjoy Summer's End. Those who need a focus on the romance above all else will likely be frustrated, as the relationship between Jack and Amy evolves slowly and subtly. As much as I believed that their personalities were strikingly compatible, I wasn't convinced that they truly were in love with each other because their interactions were limited.

But then, I'm a deliberate, intellectual person like most of the Legend family myself. Amy and Jack are able to believe in their happily-ever-after even though they are together for only a short time, so why should I doubt them? Besides, the miracle is that Seidel created a heroine who hates to read and yet managed to make me care about her.

Seidel doesn't write very often, but when she does you have to savor every word because you don't know how long it will be before you can experience her brand of insightful contemporary romance again.

--Susan Scribner


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