This isn’t typical fare from the writer of blockbuster thrillers, but David Baldacci’s “One Summer” is a story the Virginia native felt compelled to tell. Its scenes unfolded in his mind while he sat in church, awaiting his son’s confirmation. The book should come with a complimentary handkerchief tucked inside. Jack Armstrong, a happily married father of three, is diagnosed with an unnamed disease that a doctor warns is always fatal. And on Christmas Eve, Jack’s wife, Lizzie, goes out to pick up his medicine and dies when her van is struck by a snowplow.
Jack miraculously recovers and, after rebuilding his strength, moves with his kids to an old family beach house in South Carolina, where Lizzie spent summers as a child. Here Jack’s true healing takes place as he mourns his wife and tries to bridge the distance between himself and his children. “I missed a lot of things I shouldn’t have,” he confesses to his teenaged daughter, Mikki.
Although the writing is flat in a few places and one or two plot twists strain credulity — including a teen-aged prank that seems straight out of a horror movie — Baldacci more than makes up for these lapses with his sympathetic characterization of Jack. Like most parents, Jack makes resolutions and promptly breaks them, struggles with his choices and navigates a treacherous relationship with his daughter, who, in the time-honored tradition of teens everywhere, doesn’t hesitate to point out her dad’s flaws. “You don’t have a clue what to do with us,” Mikki tells him. “Admit it. You’re not Mom.”
The last few chapters are packed with enough action to rival Baldacci’s thrillers: fistfights! courtroom drama! a dramatic rescue! Fans of Nicholas Sparks in search of summer diversion will find in these pages a good message and a big heart.
By David Baldacci
333 pp. $25.99
Quick, what comes to mind when you hear the name “David Baldacci”? The creator of more than a dozen blockbuster thrillers? Another lawyer-turned-writer in the mold of Grisham and Turow? How about the author of a poignant family drama set in South Carolina?