In The Summer Guests, Mary Alice Monroe deftly weaves together the stories of vastly different people, all brought together by their individual relationships with Grace and Charles Phillips, owners of Freehold Farm, in Tyron, North Carolina.
As category six hurricane Noelle is poised to hit the coast of Florida, equestrians in Florida and the Carolinas join the Phillips at Freehold Farm, evacuating regions the storm will hit the worst. Brought together by Grace, over the course of their time at Freehold, they all develop their own individual relationships with each other, and on edge about the hurricane, discover their own identities—most of all Moira Phillips, who at the end of the novel has come to the decision to go to veterinary school to continue to pursue a love she has had since childhood.
Hannah McLain, a dear friend of Grace, having recently launched a makeup line, is the first to arrive at Freehold, along with her partner and renowned equestrian Javier Angel de la Cruz. Cruz, in turn, needing to buy a better horse for his upcoming equestrian events, brings with him his beloved horse, Butterhead, intending to sell her to Charles, knowing she will have a good home with him. Charles, despite being interested, is given an ultimatum by Grace—if he buys the horse, she goes, having seen him through the worst of his injuries a while ago and not prepared to see him ride again.
Gerta Klug, famed equestrian and owner of Klug Stables in Florida, arrives at Freehold with her daughter Elise and Elise’s trainer, Karl. Tensions are rife, with Elise’s horse, Whirlwind, taking to Karl more and Elise trapped in the need to fulfill her mother’s dreams of performing at the Olympics. Gerta, over the course of her time at Freehold, learns to live with the fact that her injury while competing has led her to groom her daughter for the Olympics, hoping that someday her daughter will achieve the dream she was unable to achieve through no fault of her own.
Meeting Cruz at Freehold, Gerta finds a renewed sense of hope in her career, knowing that her dream is not still that much out of reach. Similar to Gerta, Elise too discovers that her relationship to her career is founded greatly on her mother’s and, through rediscovering her friendship with the Phillips’ daughter Moira—who in turn is rediscovering her relationship with her husband—Elise finally sells Whirlwind and attempts to carve out her own sense of identity.
Simultaneously, in the eye of the hurricane in the Isle of Palms, another friend of Grace’s, Cara is trapped with her partner David after going back after warnings have been issued to board up a beach house that once belonged to her mother. Now stuck on the island with no way out after the bridge is closed, Cara and David wait out the hurricane in the beach house, both having lost their spouses in hurricanes.
The Summer Guests is a beautifully woven tale of identity, self-discovery and the relationships that make us who we are. With its strong emphasis on sport and identity, and the ties between horses and riders, Monroe’s latest novel is a must-read for any animal lovers. Despite the hurricane not reaching Tyron, the emotional impacts of the storm on everyone at Freehold are what drive the novel and creates an increasing sense of urgency as one hopes to discover these characters as they discover themselves before the hurricane hits.