Skip to Content

Bad Summer People: Summary and Characters Explained

This post may contain affiliate links. Read more here.

bad summer people discussion guide

Note: the following discussion guide contains spoilers, as well as references to critical plot points and detailed character analysis for Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum.

Bad Summer People, Emma Rosenblum’s debut novel published in 2023, unfolds in the fictional village of Salcombe, inspired by Saltaire on Fire Island, New York, where the author spent her youth. As the daughter of Saltaire’s former mayor, Rosenblum wrote the novel during a summer at her parents’ beach house.

Prior to publication, a leaked draft circulated among residents, sparking concerns about potential revelations of their personal lives. Although early drafts included real names, Rosenblum insists the story is entirely fictional.

Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum

Rosenblum, currently a content editor for Bustle Digital Group, has a rich editorial background, including executive roles at Elle magazine and editorial positions at Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Magazine, and Glamour. Bad Summer People gained recognition as a must-read for summer 2023 from popular media outlets such as ELLE, Cosmopolitan, and Bloomberg.

The following guide is a complete summary and character analysis for Bad Summer People by Emma Rosenblum.

Have a wonderful book club discussion! ✨

Summary | Characters ListCharacters Explained

Bad Summer People Summary

The summer sojourn in Salcombe on Fire Island brings back residents for tennis, gossip, and drama. Lauren Parker, the queen bee of Salcombe’s summer community, seeks solace from the stress of her NYC high-society life. On the ferry, Lauren encounters Rachel Woolf, an old friend prone to gossip. Rachel introduces the new tennis pro, Robert Heyworth, igniting mutual attraction.

Rachel, eager for Salcombe summers, hosts the first party to unearth secrets. This year’s bombshell involves Lauren’s husband, Jason, cheating with Jen, the wife of his best friend, Sam. Jason’s jealousy towards Sam amplifies the affair, making Rachel anticipate a summer filled with dramatic twists.

While Rachel eagerly anticipates the summer season in Salcombe, Lauren finds herself bored with her life, harboring a realization that her marriage to Jason lacks genuine love. Robert’s irresistible appeal prompts Lauren to make a bold advance after a confrontation with a social rival.

They embark on an affair. Despite Robert’s disdain for Salcombe’s privileged residents, he’s drawn to Lauren’s elegance. Simultaneously, Robert engages in embezzlement from the tennis club, taking extra lessons off the financial ledger, influenced by financier Larry Higgins.

Rachel’s joy over Jason’s affair with Sam’s wife stems from her longstanding crush on Sam since childhood. Attempting to revive their past fling, Rachel, in a drunken state, makes a move on Sam. Rejected, she reveals Jen’s affair without disclosing the partner. As the summer unfolds, Salcombe’s upper-class society remains fixated on tennis, overseen by Susan Steinhagen. Susan, sensing an inappropriate connection between Robert and Lauren, enlists Rachel to warn him.

Robert, deciding to be more discreet, doesn’t end the affair but continues embezzling, unaware that Susan is onto him. When Susan discovers the theft in the tennis club’s ledger, tensions rise.

In a surprising turn, Lauren and Jen join forces for the doubles tournament, defeating Rachel and her partner. Enraged by the loss, Rachel reveals the affair to Sam, triggering an explosive reaction. Recognizing the gravity of her actions, Rachel flees Salcombe, seeking refuge for a few days.

Amidst the mounting chaos in Salcombe, Robert discovers Susan possesses the ledger, jeopardizing his chance to secure a position with Larry Higgins. Determined to retrieve it before the storm intensifies, he pursues Susan. Simultaneously, a raging storm unfolds, adding to the intensity of the unfolding events.

As the tempest brews, Sam, armed with a kitchen knife, hunts for Jason in the rain. Lauren and Jen join forces in search of their respective husbands. In a candid moment, Jen apologizes for the affair, but Lauren, aware of Jason’s feelings for Jen, expresses indifference. She confesses her affair with Robert, and surprisingly, Jen supports her pursuit of happiness.

Robert eventually corners Susan, who escapes on her bicycle with the incriminating ledger. Rachel, witnessing the pursuit, follows them, leading to a dramatic encounter on the boardwalk. Meanwhile, Sam confronts Jason with the knife. Lauren, fueled by anger at Jason’s perceived weakness, shoves him, causing an accidental collision that sends Susan off the boardwalk.

In the aftermath, Jason and Sam, accompanied by their wives, believe Susan to be dead. Fearful of tarnishing their reputations, they disperse, prepared to deny any involvement to the authorities. Seizing the opportunity, Robert returns, finds the ledger, and discovers Susan, alive but with a broken neck.

To safeguard his secrets, he smothers her. The next morning, Susan’s body is found, and her demise is attributed to a storm-related accident, concealing the true events of that tumultuous night.

Following Susan’s death, Sam grapples with curiosity about her presence in the storm. Resorting to manipulation, he seduces Rachel, coaxing her perspective on the events leading to Susan’s demise. Rachel discloses Robert’s presence on the boardwalk that night.

In a quest for evidence, Sam discovers the ledger at Robert’s house. Rather than turning him in, Sam and Jen decide to destroy the ledger and frame Jason for Susan’s death.

As Salcombe residents prepare to leave for winter, Sam, plagued by guilt, attempts to warn Jason of the impending arrest. However, the police intervene before Jason can escape, leading to a humiliating public arrest for Lauren. Sam stands by Jason, determined to defend him.

Months later, in New York, Robert encounters Lauren. Despite still being married, Lauren and Jason have sold their Salcombe house, opting for a summer residence in the Hamptons. Sam and Jen are divorced, with Jen retaining their Salcombe house. Rachel relocates to California to be near her sisters.

Disgusted with their actions, Robert vows to stay away from the “bad, bad people” he once associated with. The lives of these once-interconnected individuals diverge, marked by the consequences of that fateful summer in Salcombe.

Bad Summer People Characters List

  1. Lauren Parker:
    • Traits: Projects style and elegance, initially passive, becomes morally ambiguous.
    • Role: Queen of Salcombe’s summer people.
    • Relationships: Married to Jason, has an affair with Robert.
    • Additional Notes: Undergoes a transformation from passivity to assertiveness, indifferent to Jason and Jen’s affair.
  2. Jason Parker:
    • Traits: Dark and intense, harbors resentment and jealousy.
    • Role: Husband to Lauren, best friend of Sam.
    • Relationships: Infatuated with Jen, engages in an affair.
    • Additional Notes: Infatuation with Jen driven by jealousy of Sam, manipulated and framed in the plot.
  3. Rachel Woolf:
    • Traits: Needy, insecure, thrilled by chaos and gossip.
    • Role: Imposes friendship on Lauren, instigates revelations.
    • Relationships: Competitive with Lauren, follows her downfall.
    • Additional Notes: Lonely and needy, exposes secrets leading to isolation.
  4. Robert Heyworth:
    • Traits: Attracted to wealth, corrupted by greed and envy.
    • Role: Tennis pro, involved in embezzlement, commits murder.
    • Relationships: Has an affair with Lauren.
    • Additional Notes: Engages in morally compromising activities, unaware of his own descent.
  5. Sam Weinstein:
    • Traits: Charming, genuine, loyal, undergoes moral deterioration.
    • Role: Best friend of Jason, husband to Jen.
    • Relationships: Betrayed by Jason and Jen, defends Jason in court.
    • Additional Notes: Represents a tragic figure due to his initial virtue, attempts partial redemption.
  6. Jen Weinstein:
    • Traits: Kind facade, selfish, craves thrill in affairs.
    • Role: Wife of Sam, manipulative character.
    • Relationships: Engages in affairs, frames Jason for Susan’s death.
    • Additional Notes: Maintains control over relationships, orchestrates a plot against Jason.
  7. Micah Holt:
    • Traits: Teeters on redemption, keeps secrets for community cohesion.
    • Role: Observer, contemplates moral decisions.
    • Relationships: Interacts with various characters.
    • Additional Notes: Struggles with the consequences of keeping crucial information.
  8. Susan Steinhagen:
    • Traits: Stickler for rules and honesty, represents traditional values.
    • Role: Responsible for the tennis club, witness to the community’s antics.
    • Relationships: Married, respected but groaned at by others.
    • Additional Notes: Honest, faces ironic demise due to her commitment to truth.

Bad Summer People Characters Explained

Lauren Parker

Lauren, often seen as the queen of Salcombe’s summer people, meticulously crafts an image of style and elegance, fortified by her reserved demeanor. Initially perceived as nice but passive, Lauren’s character arc reveals a transformation.

Despite early boundary violations, including acquiescing to her husband’s decisions and tolerating Rachel’s imposed friendship, she undergoes personal growth. Lauren’s assertiveness surfaces with an outburst over her daughter’s mistreatment and a decisive move to initiate an affair with Robert, signifying her quest for independence.

However, her morally ambiguous actions, using Robert and displaying indifference to Jason and Jen’s affair, expose the shallowness of her character. Ultimately, her descent leads to the crime of accessory to murder, yet she returns to her shallow life without acknowledging her responsibility.

Rachel Woolf

Rachel’s moral compass unravels as the narrative unfolds. Representing the story’s lack of moral judgment, she finds thrill rather than disapproval in Jason and Jen’s betrayal. Needy and insecure, Rachel’s quest for love and attention ironically drives people away, particularly men, resulting in short-lived romantic relationships.

Her friendship with Lauren is imposed, stemming from Rachel’s desire to bask in Lauren’s societal prominence. Rachel’s need for approval manifests in her competitiveness during the tennis tournament.

Losing to Lauren and Jen triggers jealousy, leading her to expose the affair, isolating herself among the “B-listers” of Salcombe society. While her neediness evokes sympathy, it ultimately contributes to her downfall.

Jason Parker

Jason, possessing a dark and intense demeanor, attracts some while irking others like Susan. Initially presented as the most corrupt major character, Jason’s true nature unfolds with a stark revelation of his definitive hatred for his best friend, Sam.

His envy of Sam’s possessions, including money, looks, women, and social ease, drives his infatuation with Jen. Jason, mistakenly believing they will leave their marriages, aims to drag Sam down by taking Jen. However, his infatuation is a result of jealousy rather than genuine feelings for Jen. Attempting redemption by lying to Sam about the affair, Jason becomes a pawn in a setup orchestrated by Jen and Sam, leading to his punishment.

Whether he perceives returning to his shallow life and superficial marriage as a reward or punishment remains uncertain. The author leaves Jason’s emotional state open-ended.

Robert Heyworth

Robert’s character is defined by his admission that while he loved Julie, his love for her money surpassed everything. Possessing a weakness for wealth and luxury, Robert’s pride prevents him from accepting handouts.

Initially corrupted by greed and envy, he jeopardizes a lucrative tennis career by embezzling from the Salcombe tennis club. By the story’s conclusion, he becomes one of the “bad, bad people” he despises, though he remains oblivious to this fact.

Arguably the most morally compromised, Robert commits premeditated murder by killing Susan, marking the pinnacle of his descent into darkness.

Jen Weinstein

Jen is perceived as kind and loving by those around her, concealing a selfish nature beneath her façade. Her affair with Jason exposes a hidden neediness akin to Rachel’s, as she craves the thrill of serial affairs.

Unlike Rachel, Jen maintains control over her relationships, compartmentalizing them as her own business, separate from Sam. Even after Sam discovers her affair with Jason, Jen refuses to give up her affairs.

Her sole redeeming quality lies in her growing closeness to Lauren. Jen’s behavior reaches its nadir when she orchestrates the plan to frame Jason for Susan’s death, showcasing the depth of her moral descent.

Sam Weinstein

Sam, initially portrayed as a charming and loyal golden boy, undergoes a transformative decline along with the other characters.

Naïve and trusting, Sam struggles to comprehend the extent of Jason’s resentment even after their affair is exposed. Broken by Jason and Jen’s betrayal, Sam’s moral deterioration takes on a tragic tone due to his initial virtue.

Despite participating in the cover-up and initially supporting framing Jason, Sam attempts partial redemption by seeking the truth about Susan’s death. He defends Jason in court after engineering his arrest, yet his moral character remains tainted as long as the full truth about Susan’s death remains concealed.

Susan Steinhagen

Susan, often met with groans from others, is a stickler for rules, judging others since their childhood. As one of Salcombe’s most honest residents, she’s witnessed decades of summer antics, keeping neighborhood gossip between herself and her husband.

Susan, responsible for the tennis club and the annual tournament, faces the challenge of maintaining honesty in a corrupt environment. Ironically, her commitment to honesty leads to her demise.

Susan represents the fading grand narratives of an older era, emphasizing good behavior, rule-following, and minding one’s own business—values eroding with the new generation.

Micah Holt

Micah teeters on the brink of redemption in contrast to the other characters. Similar to Susan, he accidentally learns secrets about his neighbors but keeps them to himself, prioritizing community cohesion over individual integrity.

Micah grapples with the discomfort of not revealing crucial information about Robert’s involvement in Susan’s death and his embezzlement from the tennis club. Rather than choosing moral righteousness, Micah opts to conceal the truth, aiming to compensate through future good deeds.

His ambiguous final thoughts about being young and having time leave his path open-ended, suggesting the potential for both positive change and perpetuation of the status quo.

Which character did you like the most in the novel? Happy reading! ❤️