That Certain Summer is a novel about a struggling and dysfunctional family and how they deal with challenges. At the center of the story is a manipulative, cold-hearted, caustic, self-centered, old woman who is a control freak. Her two grown daughters, Karen and Val, are the main victims of the withering shrew, who has recently had a stroke.

The first daughter, Karen, is an overweight, frumpy, working class mom whose teenage daughter is a brat. Karen’s former husband dumped her for a younger woman.  Karen is taking care of her witch of a mother and has come to her wits’ end.

Karen calls on her somewhat estranged sister, Val to come back home for the summer to help with the enormous tasks she is facing. Val is a beautiful theatre actress who wasn’t quite talented enough to become a star, so she became a high school drama teacher instead. She left home 17 years ago and has avoided the toxicity of her mother, but she still has emotional baggage that is almost impossible to leave behind.  

Beautiful Val comes home and falls for her mother’s handsome physical therapist, who is, conveniently, a widower.  Karen goes to church and sings in the choir. Meanwhile, Scott, a jazz musician, got into a traffic accident, and has come home to recuperate in his mother’s house. His apron-donned mommy gets him a job as the temporary music leader at Karen’s church, which is hardly as glamorous as being a jazz star.

Val is still punishing herself over the secret abortion she had 17 years ago.

The story seems to teach us that we are supposed to tolerate abuse, and when we become desperate enough, just get a man in your life and your troubles will disappear. 

The Bible doesn’t necessarily say we have to live in a toxic environment where someone is constantly attacking us. That Certain Summer suggests we shouldn’t immediately flee from these situations.

 Does “Honour thy father and thy mother” mean putting up with abuse?. Christ had a message for his people, and the message was about love, not about viciousness.

Abortion is a hot topic. Everyone has his or her opinion about it. Whether you agree or disagree, don’t cast any stones unless you are without sin.  In the novel, Val is obsessed about an abortion she had 17 years ago.  If she had only had a supportive mother, she could have made a decision that held up through the years.

Love comes from God, not necessarily your parents, or another man.

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