A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author gives a familial face to the mystique of Martha's Vineyard in this unfailingly charming reminiscence of summers spent on the island.
Blais (Journalism/Univ. of Massachusetts-Amherst; Uphill Walkers: A Memoir of a Family, 2001, etc.) chronicles the final days and robust history of a prominent family's time at their vacation home. The author makes clear she was not born into wealth, nor did she feel that marriage to John Katzenbach, son of former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, afforded her any special entitlements, on the Vineyard or anywhere else. Much more than an account of the privileged class enjoying its privileges, this story of the “shack” at Thumb Point is an engaging tale of a place that, for family or visiting friends, meant a leisurely but active lifestyle raised to an art form. “After a few days by the pond,” she writes, “you became a happy animal, scampering barefoot, feral, and fortified.” A great strength of the book are the author’s portraits of her mother-in-law, the formidable Lydia, writer Phil Caputo, and publisher Katharine Graham, the latter sketch sounding a dirge on the decline of newspapers. Other principal players, including her husband, father-in-law, and year-round islanders, provide additional anecdotes. Readers will forgive the name-dropping because it is largely unavoidable; it serves as a gateway to a more complete picture of Vineyard culture, how seemingly fancy folk enjoy relatively modest lives in decidedly rustic surroundings. The book has the flavor of a finely observed travel book, with Blais offering a brief history of the island and a thorough inventory of its hierarchy, traditions, and manifest (sometimes eccentric) pleasures. In her hands, it is an endearingly quaint community, though not without a tinge of snob appeal, which she gamely dissects.
If not quite as funny as billed, there remains much gentle humor and a certain elegiac sweetness that more than compensates—that, and a touching coda.