Gabriel García Márquez once wrote, “Everyone has three lives: a private life, a public life, and a secret life.” It’s the latter of these we see on full display in British author Sarah Moss’ slender yet weighty Summerwater.
One rainy, gloomy summer day in a Scottish holiday park, a dozen or so people are cooped up—or occasionally not—in their cabins, alone with each other, alone with their thoughts. Every other chapter extracts a stream-of-consciousness core sample from the rich vein of a character’s internal monologue.
Becky, a rather petulant teen, is not having a good time because the cabin’s size requires her to share a room with her slightly older brother, Alex, an arrangement neither of them finds satisfactory. David, a retired doctor, reminisces about days gone by, when the other cabin owners were more like a community and less absentee landlords. He also ruminates about whether he should have sold the place back when the park, not unlike himself, still had the prospect of better days ahead. Meanwhile, a young wife named Milly fantasizes about Don Draper, alternately castigating and absolving herself for not being more present with her husband. There are more such moments, of course, but these are illustrative of Moss’ main thesis: It’s not much of a happy holiday for any of the participants.
Perhaps the one thing upon which they can all agree is that the Ukrainian—or perhaps Romanian or Bulgarian—family in one of the neighboring cabins parties way too loudly, and there’s nothing like a gloomy, rain-drenched day to offer the opportunity to obsess. As we all learned from watching the movie Deliverance, nothing sets up a potential catastrophe better than the combination of outsiders and wilderness, and on this point Moss does not disappoint. Like Hemingway’s description of bankruptcy, it happens “gradually, and then suddenly.”