Book Review: 1991 Classic ‘Summer of Night’ Republished

Now in stores everywhere from St. Martin’s Griffin is Dan Simmons’ “Summer of Night”, a new book that Ryan Daley is raving about.

Originally published back in 1991, “It’s the summer of 1960 and in the small town of Elm Haven, Illinois, five twelve-year-old boys are forging the powerful bonds that a lifetime of change will not break. From sunset bike rides to shaded hiding places in the woods, the boys’ days are marked by all of the secrets and silences of an idyllic middle-childhood. But amid the sundrenched cornfields their loyalty will be pitilessly tested. When a long-silent bell peals in the middle of the night, the townsfolk know it marks the end of their carefree days. From the depths of the Old Central School, a hulking fortress tinged with the mahogany scent of coffins, an invisible evil is rising. Strange and horrifying events begin to overtake everyday life, spreading terror through the once idyllic town. Determined to exorcize this ancient plague, Mike, Duane, Dale, Harlen, and Kevin must wage a war of blood–against an arcane abomination who owns the night…

Read Ryan Daley’s review inside and snag this guy at any bookstore.
“Sometimes I think I’ll come into the room and be feeling around for the light cord…you know, it’s sorta hard to find…and instead of the cord, I’ll feel this face.”
Dale’s neck had gone cold.
“You know,” continued Lawrence, “some tall guy’s face…only not quite a human face…and I’ll be here in the dark with my hand on his face…and his teeth’ll be all slick and cool, and I’ll feel his eyes wide open like a dead person’s…and…”

In his brilliant new introduction to Summer of Night, Dan Simmons chastises parents over the loss of “unsupervised play” that children enjoyed in the past. He describes his classic novel as “a celebration of the secrets and silences of childhood. But it’s also a tale of a separate world of childhood that we’ve lost or may be on the verge of losing.” Taking place in 1960, the novel follows a handful of adolescents as they investigate the evil force that has taken over their small Illinois town. Simmons’ young characters are allowed access to a “free roaming space” that has all but disappeared in recent years.

“Adults override their commons sense,” he writes in the intro, “…and err on the side of caution. And make their children prisoners.” He warns “that if you adults steal the space and the time of childhood, you steal childhood itself.” Harsh words, but he makes a good point. Sure, the suburban kids of 1960 seem like street ruffians compared to the cloistered youth of today. But even in 1991, the year Summer of Night was originally published, childhood freedom had yet to die the slow, boot-stomping death it has suffered since the turn of the century.

Dan Simmons is a chameleonic author, changing his writing style to suit whichever genre he’s decided to master, whether it’s the hard sci-fi of Hyperion or the historical high-adventure of The Terror. With Summer of Night, Simmons manages to channel aspects of some of the best coming-of-age horror novels, like Laymon`s The Traveling Vampire Show and Stephen King’s It. Beginning on the last day of school, Simmons’ group of 11- and 12-year-olds classmates flee class and embrace summer with a wistfulness usually reserved for Steven Spielberg films. The friends gather at secret meeting places where silly secret meetings are held. Dirt clod fights and balsa gliders are featured. And Simmons’ near fetishism of bicycles is almost uncannily accurate, as almost every bike maneuver results in either a “shower” or “flurry” of gravel. He carefully and methodically builds his 1960s atmosphere before setting the evil loose on his small farming town. He wants the reader to care about these characters before putting them in mortal danger. And once the readers are fully committed…he actually has the audacity to kill off a major player or two.

His descriptions of adolescence run deep and vivid, whether he’s depicting a sweaty game of pick-up baseball or an encounter with gun-toting bullies. Simmons has the ability to tap into the base fears of childhood with apparent ease, and as the novel’s central mystery grows increasingly ominous, he exploits these fears with vigor. Summer of Night is at its scariest when it manages to unearth memories of the childhood traumas the reader has long forgotten. Those who missed this classic piece of horror lit back in `91 should do their damnedest to get their hands on a copy.

4.5/5 Skulls