Chatting about art and the Hamptons

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek is a romantic comedy of manners in the finest tradition. Half-sisters Cassie and Pecksland (Peck for short) convene in Southampton in July, 2008. They have been summoned to the ramshackle home of their deceased Aunt Lydia. She has willed her home, the dilapidated and forebodingly-named Fool’s House (after a Jasper Johns painting), to the girls in equal shares. Now they must put aside their differences – which include their mothers, their temperaments, and their taste in men – and decide what to do with Fool’s House. The two sisters spend the summer trying to understand their aunt’s puzzling instructions to “seek a thing of utmost value” from within the house. Both young women have romantic entanglements with men from their pasts.

This frothy and delightful page-turner is reminiscent of the classic novel of American romance, aspiration, and style, The Great Gatsby. If you have a penchant for romance, Gatsby, or the Hamptons, you won’t want to miss a word of our exclusive interview with the author, Danielle Ganek.
DD:  I was immediately intrigued by the title; I have always loved The Great Gatsby.
LG: I find may romantics do.
DD: Does novel The Great Gatsby hold special meaning for you?
LG: Well, it is such a wonderfully-crafted novel – and I have great admiration for the writing. I’ve always been fascinated by how this book has endured for so long and also by how most people bring their own experiences to their reading of it, whether interpreting it as a great romance or as a tragedy, or a satire. There is such a fascination with this book.  Like Cassie, my narrator, I devoured these sorts of “great American novels” from the vantage point of an American growing up abroad and yearning to know more about my country.
DD: You had a running joke in the book about who had actually read Gatsby and who had not. This amused me.  How did you come up with this? Do you find that some people claim to have read your book or other books when they obviously haven’t?
LG: I was struck by how often people reference Gatsby and then don’t seem to recall much about it, almost as though they had internalized some elements of it but either hadn’t read it, or read it so long ago they didn’t remember that Gatsby actually dies at the end.  I didn’t have anyone claim to have read my book – in fact, I found that people often went out of their way to point this out to me! But I do think there are certain books one is expected to have read, and people sometimes fudge the details.
DD: You set the book in the Hamptons; do you find the Hamptons themselves have a retro-romantic feel? Do the Hamptons hold special meaning for you?
LG: I was always intrigued by the artistic legacy of this area, and by the way the beautiful landscape and the light drew painters and artists and writers too. It’s overlaid by the stories of these artists, William Merritt Chase, Jackson Pollock, Willem DeKooning, who came there before us.
DD: The two sisters in the book Peck and Cassie are opposites. Do you feel most sisters are complete opposites? 
LG: Not necessarily, but I do think the sibling relationship is fascinating, especially when two people who would seem to have absolutely nothing in common are related by blood. I have two sisters (I’m the oldest) and the three of us could not be more different in every single way, including our looks, although we all came from the same gene pool.
DD: As in Jane Austen’s novels, your characters spend most of the novel at odds or fencing with the one they are attracted to. Are you a fan of this type of novel?
LG: I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. And don’t we always enjoy love stories where the two characters don’t even realize at first how strong their attraction is? My husband and I are a classic case of opposites attracting, so perhaps I find this to be a common path to falling in love.
DD: There is a character in the book who is described as an artist in residence. How did you come up with this idea? It seems very extravagant in this day and age.
LG: I’ve always been intrigued by the very idea of an artist-in-residence, such as at a university. Doesn’t that sound like a plum job?   I could see a character like Lydia taking that notion a few steps further, by providing housing for a young artistic person, just to be around that creative energy. She didn’t pay them, so I’m not sure how extravagant it really was, since she already had the space above her garage to give them. But it was the way she would have thought, that the power of art is so strong I would like simply to be near it, if I can’t make it myself.
DD:  Your book deals with themes of class, money and old money. How did you decide to handle these themes from observing them, or did you research them?   
LG: Aspiration is very much part of the American Dream, and I was most interested in how this would be perceived by a young American character who had never spent much time in the United States.  I did do some research as it pertained to Fitzgerald’s writing and the time period he was capturing, but a lot of what is in the novel in terms of more recent history comes from my own observations.