Publication date: June 28th 2016
Less than a quarter of the way into Invincible Summer and I realize why the novel feels so comfortable—I’ve superimposed the characters from Four Weddings and Funeral over the ones Alice Adams creates. This is not a bad thing because the story is not derivative, but you do have a small, tightly knit, British group of friends who get together once a year, not for weddings or funerals, but for summer vacation. Sylvie, Benedict, and Eva all attend university together. Lucien is Sylvie’s older bad-boy brother. They’re all set to graduate and head into the world of adults. In the style of British rom-coms (or rom-coms everywhere) there has to be unrequited love: Eva for Lucien and Benedict for Eva. Sylvie stands alone as the manic pixie, artsy girl for whom everything seems to go her way.
Invincible Summer follows the friends from their last year at school in 1995 for a decade. Both Eva and Benedict find success through hard work while Sylvie and Lucien flounder. Sylvie finds that being an artist is far more difficult and less lucrative as time passes and so has to turn towards less savory jobs to pay the bills, while Lucien postures as a club promoter, but is really making his money off selling drugs. They reconnect on their vacations, but even these peter out as their paths diverge. The novel’s through line is Benedict and Eva’s abortive attempts at romance.
The relationship flips in Invincible Summer feel all too real, with the somewhat nerdy friends far out accomplishing the cool kids once school is left behind. For Eva it is even more painful when in a fit of pique Sylvie reveals
You love it now that you’re on top and I’m your charity case instead of you being the gawky side-kick.
This is where the adulthood wounding comes in. When who you were is no longer who you are and may, in fact, count for nothing. Adams takes this dynamic and treats it with kindness, as Eva, Sylvie, Benedict, and Lucien each bump up against the boundaries of what they had and try to refit themselves to what they can have now. There may not be great revelations, but in the same way that Four Weddings and a Funeral is entertaining and enduring so is Invincible Summer.