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A book review by Steven Wu
June 22, 2003
|Rating: 2 (of 10)|
Of course, lots of horror novels have facially ridiculous premises. For instance, Stephen King's It--perhaps my favorite horror novel of all time--concerns a child-eating killer clown who turns out to be an alien from outer space with a big grudge against a certain group of kids, now adults. But whereas King managed to execute It's far-fetched premise with aplomb, Simmons lacks King's consummate skill with plotting, character, and dialogue. What you get in Summer of Night are long stretches of boredom, interchangeable characters (to the end I couldn't tell which boy was which), and fairly standard, ho-hum horror-novel twists and turns: the kids are chased far too many times, they see lots of dead people, and so on and so forth.
What's most surprising about Summer of Night, given Simmons's deft handling of plot and character in his science fiction novels Hyperion and its progeny, is that so much of Summer of Night feels, well, juvenile, as if some novice writer were plying his craft for the first time. I suppose that could have been deliberate, as Summer of Night deals with young boys, but an author can certainly suggest youth without sounding as though the story were written by one. (Cf. Stephen King's It again, a far superior cousin of this book.) Thus, you get lines like, "Dale and Lawrence and Kevin and Harlen followed," and clunky exposition techniques like a character "discovering" a book about the bell and writing lengthy journal passages on it (which the author helpfully reproduces, with all its strained "I am a kid, hear me write" quality), or another character coincidentally stealing just the right book from a rich man's library, with no real explanation about why he knew that book, rather than the dozens near it, was the right one.
That being said, Summer of Night does get a little exciting near the end, as the boys finally confront big evil that's been hinted at throughout the book. And the book ends with a surprisingly nostalgic paragraph that I might as well reproduce here:
Dale quietly lowered his head, knowing that the satellite--like the Bootleggers' Cave, like so many things--would be there tomorrow night and the day after, but that this moment, with his friends around and the night soft with summer sounds and breezes, and the voices of his parents and their friends just beyond the house, and the sense of endless summer days that August brought--that this moment was only for now and must be saved.Too bad that the rest of the novel is so relentlessly dumb.
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