In her latest novel It Happens in the Hamptons, writer Holly Peterson tells the story of a West Coast transplant who discovers that life in the East End might not be all that it seems.
You write about the clash between new money interlopers and locals in the Hamptons, but this could have taken place elsewhere, couldn't it?
The clash between a local population and the people who invade their community for the summer is rife with the class conflicts roiling the country today. I tried to write something intensely current: Downton Abbey in bikinis. The novel is about the outer tip of Long Island, but it could be a resort community anywhere—the mountains, a lake, the coasts such as Aspen, Nantucket, Lake Minnetonka or Amelia Island. Anywhere people use “summer” as a verb, there is tension with the normal people who actually live in one home year-round. The ante is doubled when these groups become friends, or try to, and have illicit attractions, which always go haywire.
People assume the behavior of the 1% is outrageous, but it's worse, isn't it?
As a reporter and a novelist I write what I call “journalistic fiction,” which means I never write anything that wouldn’t happen in real life--and yes, the behavior of people who own $40 million dollar mansions as a second home is outrageous. In Southampton town, I witness people with AmEx black cards as thick as two-by-fours (meaning a $500k+ credit line) demand 20% discounts in the local surf shops. People take $600 Uber-style helicopter rides as if they were actually Uber. People throw $200,000 cocktails parties to “celebrate the season.” The woman in the beginning of my book buys a dozen $800 cruiser bikes in matching cantaloupe color because she wants her houseguests to match as they ride to the beach at sunset. Women all over Southampton do that as a little décor whim midday on a Saturday as they are picking up a $65 candle in town.
How tense is it on the local side? Do you ever feel like averting your eyes when you see how bad it looks from their point of view?
I try to avoid caricatures, and the locals aren’t angels. Some of them cozy up to the summer people for prestige or access, just as you see loser hedge fund dads trying to act cool with the local surfer crew. Many of those mega-money guys are self-made and had police officers as dads growing up. Even though they are worth half a billion dollars now, they think they know what “real life” is like and can relate to “normal” people in the 99%. That kind of inauthentic mingling is a novelist’s lifeblood.