In the middle of a thriving career writing adventure stories and historical novels for children, Judy Blundell found herself captivated by a story for adults she had begun sketching out on the side. It was about a separated middle-aged couple trying to maintain their friendship by “papering over the fault lines in their marriage” and the introduction of a girlfriend who could solve all the financial and practical problems the couple were facing, as Blundell explains over the phone. When Blundell landed on the right setting—Orient, a town on the end of the North Fork of Long Island known as the “un-Hamptons,” whose population nevertheless increases substantially over the summer—her first published novel for adults, The High Season, started to take shape.
For years, though, Blundell relegated the project to “the margins” of her professional life, until one day she paused before signing a contract to write her next children’s book. She called up a writer friend for advice. When her friend said to her that her job as a writer was to be in love with her material, Blundell knew she had to take a leap. “I thought, ‘I really have to write this adult book. I just have to finish it—the story hasn’t let me go.’ ” Blundell took a year off her job to follow her intuition and finish the novel. Unlike with her children’s books, which she outlines meticulously, Blundell wrote The High Season loosely, “following the story through” for the first draft and revising the work many times.
While writing the novel, Blundell kept lessons she had learned as a children’s book and young adult author in mind. “I absolutely wanted to marry that idea of the attention I gave to cliffhangers and page-turners in my children’s books, a sense of the really propulsive plot, where something twists or turns every four or five pages, to the idea of a literary novel,” Blundell explains. “I’m used to winning over reluctant readers. There’s no more reluctant reader than a 14-year-old.”
As summer readers, we are often reluctant to stick with a book too. But The High Season entices us with more than a lively plot: The novel’s action is grounded in complex characters. “I decided that it would be more interesting to do three women from different generations and the impact and seduction of the summer people and wealth on each of them,” Blundell explains of her ultimate decision to structure her book around three main characters: Ruthie, the separated middle-aged protagonist Blundell had started with, her teenage daughter, Jem, and Doe, a self-made society blogger in her 20s. Jem’s story of summer jobs and heartbreak is playfully told through text messages and emails, giving it a casual feel, while multiple flashbacks imbue Doe’s rise to the top of the summer scene with mystery. Ruthie’s sections often have a melancholy feel, creating what our reviewer calls an “interesting curmudgeonly undercurrent” to the novel. Their problems pivot around a Gatsby-sized question (to refer to a work that strongly influenced Blundell when writing The High Season): “In the world today or in our country it can increasingly feel as though the careless and the unscrupulous are winning, so if that’s true, what rules do we play by? How do we stay good?” Blundell says. “Ruthie is faced with that choice, and of course it’s a novel, so she makes the absolutely wrong choice, or else we wouldn’t have a story.” Alexia Nader is a writer living in San Francisco.