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Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
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Summer of Night (original 1991; edition 1991)

by Dan Simmons

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1,032178,204 (3.98)62
Member:sn
Title:Summer of Night
Authors:Dan Simmons
Info:Headline Book Publishing (1991), Hardcover, 473 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:1960s, coming of age, horror, supernatural, midwest

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Summer of Night by Dan Simmons (1991)

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English (15)  Danish (1)  French (1)  All languages (17)
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In Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, an ancient and forgotten evil comes to life in the small town of Elm Haven, Illinois, where a close-knit group of recently graduated sixth graders are among the few to realize it’s happening, and soon understand they are the only ones who can deal with it.

Though a terrific work of horror, Summer of Night is much more than that. It’s a coming-of-age tale that deftly recalls what it’s like to be eleven-years-old, no longer a kid, but yet not truly adolescent either. It affectionately captures hot, sweaty summer days of riding bikes, playing sandlot baseball, camping out, long days spent in the woods, and a nascent and budding interest in the opposite sex.

It also quite cleverly captures a time, the year 1960, with black and white background images of Democrats nominating Kennedy, and the first satellites being sent into space; and a place, the dying town of Elm Haven, Illinois, which doesn’t know that it’s dying.

The source of the horror both stretches credulity and is quite clever. Then again, it doesn’t matter what causes the World War I soldier to come out of his grave and stalk one of the character’s grandmothers. It doesn’t matter how the lamprey creatures can burrow and surface and dive into asphalt as easily as a dolphin in water. And it certainly doesn’t matter what caused the interior of Old Central School to become ensconced in viscous fluids, pulsing eggsacks, and fleshy tentacles. What matters is it has happened and must be dealt with.

One of the things I find interesting about reading an obviously semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale is trying to determine exactly which character is the author. In this book, there are many to choose from. There’s altar boy and all-around good guy Mike O’Rourke; earnest Dale Stewart and his younger brother Lawrence. There’s wiseass Jim Harlen, and quietly strong Kevin Grumbacher. And in the background, hovering over them all, is the bookish and brilliant (and doomed) Duane McBride.

Though it becomes obvious toward the end which character most resembles Simmons, I’m struck upon every re-reading just how fully drawn each of the characters is, and can’t help but think there’s a little bit of Simmons in all of them.

What strikes me most upon each re-reading of this book is the universality of it. Though I wasn’t born at the time this book takes place, it captures my own perhaps romanticized memories of my youth, hot summer days playing baseball and hanging out with friends, of riding bikes and camping out and playing in the woods. That may be why I re-read this book every few years or so.

It’s always good to catch up with old friends. ( )
  BrendanPMyers | Jun 23, 2014 |
In the vein of Stand By Me and It by Stephen King.Real page turner.Characters with depth.Dan Simmons is a terrific writer,his prose raises his novels above pop fiction to literature. ( )
  sorjuana | Jan 17, 2014 |
I'm not a fan of horror novels. I usually find them just plain dumb, but I really enjoyed this story. I found the story interesting and it was frightful and tense where it should be. It starts out a little slow and boring but it picks up. The way he wrote about the kids and their lives made me nostalgic for an era I didn't even live in. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to dig in to a creepy story. ( )
  Tara714 | Nov 15, 2013 |
Old Central School still stood upright, holding its secrets and silences firmly within. Eighty-four years of chalkdust floated in the rare shafts of sunlight inside while the memories of more than eight decades of varnishings rose from the dark stairs and floors to tinge the trapped air with the mahogany scent of coffins. The walls of Old Central were so thick that they seemed to absorb sounds while the tall windows , their glass warped and distorted by age and gravity, tinted the air with a sepia tiredness. . . .

By the spring of 1960, Old Central School had come to resemble some of the ancient teachers who had taught in her: too old to continue but too proud to retire, held stiffly upright by habit and a simple refusal to bend. Barren herself, a fierce old spinster, Old Central borrowed other people's children over the decades."
(from the first page of [Summer of Night])

It is summer of 1960, and Old Central School has completed its last year as an active shcool. A group of friends, most of them having just completed 6th grade, are ready for summer fun. But it's not going to be an easy summer. Something Evil is afoot. A boy has disappeared. A dead soldier is wandering about. The odorous Rendering Truck roams the streets in search of more than dead animals. There are rumors of a cursed Bell. And something is slithering under the ground. . .

I love the writing in this book. I love the warm scenes of ordinary small-town circa 1960s life juxtaposed against vivid descriptions of the dark horror of Evil that is enveloping the town. Simmons takes his time with descriptions that pull the reader back into small-town life the summer of 1960. There are mentions Huntley & Brinkley and the nomination of JFK. There are marvelous passages that bring small town/rural life alive to the reader. Some might say he describes too much -- at 600 pages, this book isn't a quick read. But without being rooted in that solid sense of a real place and time, I'm not sure this story would work nearly as well as it does.

There are also things straight out of the author's chilling imagination. This is a horror novel, populated with the undead and other things that go bump (and slither and scratch) in the night. A certain suspension of disbelief is required of the reader -- not only regarding supernatural things, but also about the actions of these kids in fighting that Powerful Evil. But the author taps into an arsenal of natural childhood fears; fear of the dark, of something in the closet or under the bed; a reluctance to go into the basement, the threat of a menacing truck. Indeed, he does so much with the dreaded, odorous "Rendering Truck" that I wonder if a real-life version of such a truck was part of the writer's actual childhood terrors.

This is a classic Good vs. Evil tale. Some of it's rather gross, and the ending (as with many horror novels) is a bit much. But I enjoyed it. ( )
  tymfos | Aug 27, 2012 |
Not bad...interesting but fell apart at the end for me (but a lot of books do). ( )
  grateful.zed | Jun 4, 2012 |
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This is for Wayne, who was there when it all happened.
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Old Central School still stood upright, holding its secrets and silences firmly within.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
A monstrous, timeless entity is devouring children. Adults either refuse to understand what is happening, or are themselves agents for the monster. A group of young boys, in uneasy partnership with an outcast girl, realize they must kill the creature before it devours them all.
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In the summer of 1960 in Elm Haven, Illinois, a sinister being is stalking the town's children, and when a long-silent bell peals in the middle of the night, the town's residents know it marks the end of innocence.

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