Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dan Simmons: Summer of Night

I was going to do this as a part of the Friday's Forgotten Book series, but then I realized it's not Friday, it's Tuesday, and I should be writing about an Overlooked Film! Well, here goes nevertheless.

I had bad luck selecting my readings for this past holiday season. I read three books that had nothing to do with my other work, but the first two proved to be pretty bland (won't name any names, though). Luckily the third one I picked to read proved to entertaining and exciting. I'd never read Dan Simmons earlier, but I might try another one by him, as Summer of Night was quite good.

Summer of Night is at times a nostalgic look at the small town life in Illinois in the early 1960's. The evil in the book is an old, empty school that seems to nourish a secret or a bunch of them. In the beginning we see a nosy kid getting sucked up in a tunnel in the boys' room, and everything starts to unravel as the main characters, a bunch of kids, start to search for the explanation. There are references to Aleister Crowley and other esoteric stuff, but Simmons has enough style to keep the lecturing away. The book is quite long, which I usually don't like, but this kept me turning pages.

Simmons also clearly has sympathy for the underdog: his heroes are a dyslexic boy who proves to be the cleverest of them all, a dreamy boy who fantasizes about being a writer, a misanthropic kid who hates his out-going mother (I thought the description of the mother was a bit unfair, but it remained believable throughout), and an ugly and ill-kept girl who likes to carry a shotgun around. There's warmth also in the depiction of the somewhat loserish parents. There are lots of exciting scenes, but the long climax was also very good.

Summer of Night came out in 1992 and was nominated for a British Fantasy Award the same year. There have been sequels, but I haven't read any of them. When I was still picking up books for the Arktinen Banaani's paperback line some years ago, I considered Simmons's hardboiled crime novels, Hardcase, Hard Freeze, and Hard as Nails, but I never got around to reading them. His science fiction novels have been popular in Finland, so it might've been worth the effort.

The Finnish cover depicted above is ugly as all hell, it's no wonder this didn't make much impact here. The Finnish title translates back as "The Horror of the Summer Night". I notice now that one of the sequels, namely Children of the Night, has also been translated in Finnish as well - will have to look for it.


J F Norris said...

I've only read SONG OF KALI by Simmons. Compared to his most recent work -- bloated doorstop tomes, all of them -- it's practically a novella. Compactly told with rich detail and breathtakingly short. If you're interested in more of Simmons, I very much recommend it. It has a taste of horror and the occult (Indian mythology, Kali death cult) but I'd hesitate to slap any genre label on it because it's a lot more going for it than typical escapist horror fiction meant to thrill or repulse. It was (I think) his first novel. His science fiction is highly regarded, though I rarely read anything in that genre so I can't give any recommendations of that portion of his work. Of all his books that I do want to read SUMMER OF NIGHT is the most often lauded by people whose tastes I share and respect. Thanks for another positive review, one that highlights the aspects I like to know about in advance. I'll try to add it to my reading list this year.

jurinummelin said...

Thanks for your comment, JF! Nice to know this was useful. I've heard about Song of Kali and many friends have recommended it, so I'll try that.

Will Errickson said...

I can easily recommend SONG OF KALI as well, a wonderful '80s horror novel that offers more, as was said above, that just escapist chills. It is brutally efficient and almost palpably evil. Also fantastic is HYPERION, his grand SF epic. But other than a few '80s short stories, I've been little taken with his other work. Honestly I found SUMMER OF NIGHT to be a weak and obvious Stephen King copy, but I know I'm in the minority with that opinion!

jurinummelin said...

Thanks for your comment, Will! I noticed some Stephen King vibes in SUMMER OF NIGHT,but having read only little King in the past 25 years, I thought best not to say anything about that.