When secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?—from The Globe and Mail–bestselling author Marissa Stapley.
When secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?
Mae Summers and Gabe Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge the St. Lawrence River. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lily and George. A childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up and got over her heartbreak, and started a life for herself in New York City.
After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay by separate forces. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets that implicate Gabe and Mae’s family reveal a version of the past that will forever change Mae’s future.
From the bestselling author of Mating for Life comes a poignant generational story about family and secrets. With honesty and heart, Marissa Stapley reminds us of the redemptive power of love and forgiveness, and that, ultimately, family is a choice.
Things to Do When It’s Raining Virginia has always loved the rain. She never hides inside: she goes fishing or for a walk, and she doesn’t mind getting wet. Even now, when she knows that rain means danger, she tilts her face up to meet the droplets. The fear retreats for a moment. But then she lowers her head and keeps on across the ice, faster now because she knows she must find her husband, somewhere out on this river, and save him before it’s too late.
In the distance, she hears what sounds like a gunshot: the ice surrendering. If she’d known it was going to rain, she’d have gone for help. Usually, she feels it coming. But this time the clouds gathered and she didn’t notice. There were bigger things on her mind. And now that she’s out on the river she can’t turn back. He needs her. The river, which tells her where the biggest fish are when she goes out in her boat, which tells her so many other things because she listens, is telling her now that Chase is in danger.
She’s known everything about Chase since the moment he stepped off his family’s yacht and onto her family’s dock six years ago. She tossed her braid over her shoulder, rolled her eyes and helped him tie a proper sailor’s knot, and then he looked straight into her and said, “Thank you,” but he meant other things and the world stopped spinning for a minute. Later he told her he felt an axis tilt, a realignment of planets. He saw a constellation of freckles on her nose. She fell in love with him because he said stuff like that to her. None of the boys in Alexandria Bay talked that way.
And now he needs her. She knows.
It would be the same if their daughter were in danger: the river would whisper the threat in her ear and she would go find Mae. But their girl is out of harm’s way, up in the attic of Virginia’s parents’ inn, also her home, playing with her friend Gabriel, oblivious to the ice that is shifting and about to crack in her world.
There’s another splitting sound in the distance just as Virginia approaches Island 51. She stops and looks at the shack with its boarded-up windows. She’s afraid to move, afraid to stay still. Pointless to even try, but maybe Jonah Broadbent is her only hope. Part of her still believes in this boy she once knew—now a broken man—so she climbs the slippery bank, scrambles up the stairs and pounds on the door of the shack, but then doesn’t bother to wait for an answer. It’s unlocked, as always, so she turns the knob and walks in.
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Things to Do When It's Raining Marissa Stapley Reading Group Guide
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What does “family” mean to you? Is family something you’re born into or something you can create?
2. Describe the relationship Mae and her fiancé, Peter, had. Do you believe he ever loved her? What does Mae learn from their interactions?
3. The St. Lawrence River is a character in and of itself in this novel. How would you describe its role in the story and its effect on the various characters?
4. Do you think it’s possible for teenage sweethearts to pick up where they left off? How do time and maturity change our outlook on life and our relationships with others?
5. What role do love and jealousy play in the novel?
6. Gabe comes from a family that has a legacy of alcoholism and abuse. How does he view himself in light of that? Do you think that makes him a different person than he might otherwise have been? How does his past affect the decisions he makes?
7. Lilly hurt George by accidentally revealing the truth about Virginia’s paternity. What would you have done in George’s situation? Was Lilly was right to have hidden the truth from him all these years?
8. Lilly’s actions have an enormous effect on her granddaughter’s life. In your opinion, were those actions justified? Why do you think she tells Gabe “Mae is not for you”? How much regret do you believe she feels and in what ways does that regret change her?
9. Why does George befriend Jonah so late in both their lives? Do they have anything in common besides their shared family history? What influence, if any, do they have on each other?
10. Does Mae’s character change as the story progresses? If so, how?
11. Do you agree with Gabe’s decision not to tell George about Lilly’s lie? Why or why not? What would you have done in the same situation?
12. In your opinion, why does Gabe hold himself responsible for the deaths of Mae’s parents?
A Conversation with Marissa Stapley
1. Things to Do When It’s Raining is such a heartfelt portrayal of love in all its forms. What was your inspiration for writing this novel?
I was very close to my grandparents growing up, but my grandfather and I were not biologically related. My grandmother’s first husband, Lawrence, died tragically when my mother was two, and it remains a painful topic for both families. As such, I knew that Lawrence had existed, and had seen movie-star-handsome pictures of him with my grandmother, Jean—they looked so in love! The photos inspired many stories, but I had few concrete details about Lawrence.
After my grandmother passed away in 2013, a few things happened to get me thinking about writing this story. Lawrence’s brother attended Jean’s funeral, and I introduced him to one of my younger cousins as my great uncle. She later told me she was shocked, she hadn’t known about Lawrence. He had become a secret because his death was too painful to discuss. Better to bury it, we had all decided—without saying a word.
I also saw how lost and alone my grandfather was without Jean. Perhaps they hadn’t had a Hollywood-worthy love story, but he was a childhood friend before they married, so their story had its own sweetness. He married Jean, a widow with a young child, and in doing so he had saved her, and she saved him too. I had always imagined the love story as being between my grandmother and poor, lost Lawrence. But Jean’s death made me realize that, despite the devastating loss of her first husband, she had carried on. Ultimately, she had developed a very deep bond with the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life. When she died, she was calling for him.
And so, I started writing. It helped to write a character like Lilly because I felt my grandmother was with me as I wrote. My grandfather died shortly after her, and this book has really turned into my way of saying goodbye to all of them, and ensuring they live on in some way.
2. Why did you choose the Summers’ Inn as the setting for the novel?
I always seem to go to water when I’m looking for inspiration. As I began the challenging task of starting a second novel, I spent some time in Gananoque, Ontario, visiting an aunt who lives near the river. I needed a setting that was a character in itself, a setting that would tie the characters together—characters painfully close to my heart because they were inspired by real people I had loved.
The inn took shape alongside the Summers family. I realized they needed a naturally hospitable home, open to someone like Gabe, especially. It made sense that he would live there, that Mae would gravitate there, and that Lilly and George would be so tied it. I had even envisioned drawing some of the guests into the story, but once I got to know George, Lilly, Gabe, and Mae, I realized I was going to have my hands full—these were complicated people.
3. Do you like the rain? What is your favorite thing to do when it’s raining?
My mother always said that we couldn’t let bad weather ruin our day. So although I wouldn’t say I love the rain, I welcome it. There’s something more satisfying about accomplishing things on a rainy day than on a regular day. Sunshine is easy; rain is a challenge.
I’m also the kind of person who forgets to pack an umbrella, so I’m always walking through rain with my face upturned, with that Roger Miller quote running through my head: Some people feel the rain; others just get wet. I think Virginia’s character was born on a rainy walk home from school, as I laughed my way through a rainstorm alongside my young daughter. Virginia so badly wanted her child to be resilient, to weather life’s rainstorms, and to simply turn her face towards the raindrops and laugh at them.
My favorite thing to do when it’s raining is to cuddle up with a book, preferably with my kids and kitten nearby, also reading—well, not the kitten, he doesn’t know how to read yet.
4. In the book you write that, “Choosing love is sometimes better than giving it out of obligation.” Is this something you’ve learned from your own experience?
I think everyone learns that—with families, marriages, long friendships, and with their children. New love and new relationships, those are easy! It’s when you really get to know someone, and when they hurt you a few times—because that’s what people do by virtue of who we are—that you either decide to work on it or you quit it all together. But choosing to love, even when it’s difficult, is often the most rewarding choice. I think we really see that in this novel because everyone has to choose to love one another. There are points where walking away was probably the easier option, but that makes the ultimate decision to choose love a brave one.
5. The St. Lawrence River plays such a big part in Mae and Gabe’s life. Did you grow up around water? Have you ever been afraid of water?
I didn’t grow up around water, but we spent a lot of time around water on family vacations. I think I’ve always associated being around water with being truly relaxed and at peace.
Yes, I’m actually very nervous, not of water itself, but of what might be in the water. I’m terrified of muskie, and when I was a kid my older brother loved to torture me with his knowledge of this fear. I’m terrified of seaweed, too. It’s an incredibly irrational fear! Yet I persist; I will swim anywhere. As I get older, I spend more time just plunging in. My fears don’t exactly go away, but they matter less.
6. Mae has such a close relationship with her grandparents, Lilly and George. Were you close with your grandparents growing up?
Very! I was especially close with my mother’s parents, but I did have a special connection to my father’s mom, my Grannie Maggie, who was a prolific Canadian magazine writer and would have been so thrilled to see my books published.
My maternal grandparents were like a second set of parents, just as Lilly and George are to Mae. I lived with them during university, and would forgo meeting my friends at the pub after class so I could rush home in time for our daily routine of watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! together while eating dinner on our laps. They were the kind of people you would describe as “salt of the earth.” Not a day goes by that I don’t wish they were still here.
7. Now that you’ve finished writing the book, is there a character you wish you could revisit, or is there a character with whom you most identify?
I miss them all: Lilly because she reminds me of my grandmother, George because he reminds me of my grandfather, and Mae because I definitely identify with her as a person. Then there’s Gabe—I think about him all the time. It’s probably time to admit I have a crush on someone who doesn’t exist.
If I had to choose one character from the book to revisit, it would be Everett. Just as my biological grandfather is essentially unknowable to me and my mother, Everett was always outside of my grasp as a character, too. He didn’t live long enough for anyone to know him beyond the rather careless days of his youth. And yet, he touched the lives of each character in some way. I know I can never revisit him because there will never be any more to know about him than what is already on paper—but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it could be different.
Marissa Stapley is the author of the bestselling novel Mating for Life, and Things to Do When It's Raining, which has been published in nine countries and translated into seven languages. Her journalism has appeared in newspapers and magazines across North America. She lives in Toronto with her family. Visit her at MarissaStapley.com or follow her on Twitter @MarissaStapley.
“Commercial fiction at its best. Compelling, heartfelt and well-crafted. A gem of a page-turner.”
– Tara Henley, Toronto Star
“The intensity of the lasting love and friendship between Gabe and Mae is emotionally powerful and finely wrought, and Stapley complements this story about the difficult choices family members make for those they love with an evocative setting.”
– Publishers Weekly
“A charming tale with an enchanting setting, Stapley’s latest (after Mating for Life, 2014) is an engaging read about keeping secrets, starting over, and loving the family you choose.”
“Things to Do When It’s Raining has heart and soul and guts, and it has achingly beautiful prose and characters so dear and real I couldn’t bear to say goodbye when I reached its final page. It’s a book about friendship and secrets, grief and regret, the peculiar shape of families and the redemptive nature of love. And it is, quite frankly, one of the best books I have read in a very long time.”
– Jennifer Robson, bestselling author of Moonlight over Paris
“Fans of Nicholas Sparks will adore Things to Do When It’s Raining, an irresistible tribute to first love, second chances and the powerful legacy of the past. Elegant and heartfelt, Marissa Stapley’s writing is a gift.”
– Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale
“Evocative, wise and infused with heart. A deeply moving story about family, love and loss, the novel shows how secrets can either haunt us or set us free, depending on who we trust them with. One of my favorite books this year!”
– KARMA BROWN, bestselling author of Come Away with Me
“A generous book about imperfect people, a novel about the family we choose, the mistakes we make, and how love, flawed and searching and messy, is the only path to forgiveness. It’s also a gorgeously written page-turner, and when I finished it, I flipped right back to page one to savor it just a little bit more.”
– Lauren Fox, author of Days of Awe
“A tightly woven story that beautifully illustrates how tragedy and human weakness can cause heartbreaking ripples for years and generations to come.”
– K.A. Tucker, bestselling author of He Will Be My Ruin
“There is something so intimate and true in the sentence, 'Every marriage harbors secrets, secrets about why it works or why it doesn't work, secrets between two people that the rest of the world can never be privy to.' Profound and intimate, raw and real—Things to Do When It's Raining is hard to put down. Loved the ending but hated to have it end!”
– Nan Rossiter, New York Times bestselling author of Firefly Summer
“The complex and moving saga of a non-traditional family with deep bonds and even deeper secrets. Set against the idyllic background of a far-flung seaside town, the finely drawn characters of this novel test the limits of friendship, love, and forgiveness. A story that lingers long after the final page is turned.”
– Andrea Dunlop, author of Losing the Light
“Spellbinding. . . . I fell in love with Mae Summers from the first page, and I followed her, heart between my teeth, as she uncovered family secrets and reconsidered her place in the world. Full of engaging characters, sensitivity and insight, Marissa Stapley’s newest novel is a beautiful, emotionally acute saga that makes us all reconsider the meaning of love and family.”
– Danila Botha, author of Too Much on the Inside
“A haunting, gripping novel about family secrets and love lost and found. It's a story that will resonate with anyone who has returned home to find that places have as much power as people to wound, and heal.”
– Elizabeth Renzetti , author of Based on a True Story
“Written with compassion and insight, Things to Do When It's Raining is a truly captivating novel with exquisite prose and moments of bittersweet tenderness.”
– Nicola Moriarty, author of The Fifth Letter
“Regrets, secrets, and hidden longings swirl beneath the surface of this beautifully atmospheric story of love found, lost, and rediscovered. I couldn’t stop reading.”
– Shelley Noble, NYT bestselling author of Whisper Beach and The Beach At Painter’s Cove
“I enjoyed Things to Do When It's Raining enormously. A lovely book full of emotion and wisdom.”
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