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Summer Fun

by Jeanne Thornton

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323660,968 (3.81)None
From acclaimed author Jeanne Thornton, an epic, singular look at fandom, creativity, longing, and trans identity. Gala, a young trans woman, works at a hostel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. She is obsessed with the Get Happies, the quintessential 1960s Californian band, helmed by its resident genius, B----. Gala needs to know: Why did the band stop making music? Why did they never release their rumored album, Summer Fun? And so she writes letters to B---- that shed light not only on the Get Happies, but paint an extraordinary portrait of Gala. The parallel narratives of B---- and Gala form a dialogue about creation--of music, identity, self, culture, and counterculture. Summer Fun is a brilliant and magical work of trans literature that marks Thornton as one of our most exciting and original novelists.… (more)
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Showing 3 of 3
DNF at Page 245

For those of you who have seen “Say Anything” I will ask you to summon Lili Taylor’s character in that film and then imagine that she wrote and published a novel. This is that novel. The main character, and it certainly seems the writer, are a quivering ball of angst and hurt feelings and intelligence and unrealized potential. (If you haven’t seen Say Anything, cancel your plans for the evening, fire up the HBOMax and get on that. It is, with apologies to John Hughes, the best teen romantic comedy ever and the second or third best Cameron Crowe movie.)

Last week I was on vacation in a mid-size city in the Pacific Northwest and my sister and I went to the art museum one rainy day. The museum has two buildings, one of which is very well curated and chock full of interesting, and some very good, regional artists that people outside of the region would likely be unfamiliar with. The other building was the modern wing, and it is 90+% filled with not good to downright terrible pieces. I had been unaware that there were bad Water LIllies panels before I got here. This museum does not have the funds to compete with large museums for works by brand name artist like Monet, Degas, and Renoir but they want to have them, so they have the throw away junk. The rest of the collection is the kind of art that reminds me why people resent art. There is a piece by a guy who held a pencil over paper as he rode the New York subway every day, and however the train jolted or moved the pencil roamed. And then someone bought this. So as we were walking through thinking derisive thoughts about the collection my sister looked at me and I said “well some of these artists totally got the conceptual part down, they just forgot about the art.” That quote encapsulates how I felt about Summer Fun.

This book is filled with good ideas, and with some really well written passages. That said there are some fatal flaws.
First, the entire structure makes no sense. This is an epistolary novel, all letters going in one direction, from a trans witch named Gala to a fictionalized Brian Wilson. In the letters Gala tells Brian about HIS life. A. How would she know all this detailed info about his experiences, and B. Why would he need to be told his own life?

The book is overwritten. Thornton is the Bob Ross of writing. She has talent, there is a moment when there is a beautiful product, but the artist does not know when to stop? For example, there is a line where Gala, touches the face of another character, a yawn-worthy manic pixie dream girl who Gala crushes on, askes Gala to feel her head for fever. When asked how it feels Gala's first thought is “sebaceous” which is funny, but then she continues “it feels like fried food.” First, that makes no sense and second you just said she felt oily, why say it another way? Thornton does this over and over. It takes away the punch of the prose and makes what should have been a 275 page book into a 432 page book.

The characters other than Gala are cliches, and not good ones.

As mentioned there are some great concepts/themes here. I liked the look at fandom and the ways in which people might use that process to define their identity to to invent parallels between themselves and famous people or characters to make them feel like they themselves have worth.

The book has many sparks of wit well-deployed. BUT my god this needed an editor so badly! First to make some sense of the structure and the weird decision to report your imagination of someone’s life to that someone, second to take out all the detritus – Thornton cannot think a word without including it. Third, to excise the long portions of this where absolutely nothing happens. (There is a reference Warhol’s film Sleep, and that seemed apt - -that is 5 and a half hours of watching John Giorno sleep.) Fourth, an editor could have helped to make Ronda and Caroline matter to the narrative other than as ways to set up series of events. There is good stuff here, but it’s a mess.

All that said, i look forward to reading more of Thornton's work. She has talent I think and a unique voice. With a good editor and an understanding that a book should not include every thought you have (unless you don't think a whole lot which is not the case here) I think Thornton could write some great things. ( )
  Narshkite | Jun 19, 2022 |
This was a very strange work, an epistolary novel written from the perspective of a contemporary trans woman to a 1960s trans rock star of a Beach Boys-style group. At first, I was more interested in the contemporary story, and didn't care at all about the historical story. Eventually, I enjoyed both timelines, even though I never quite comprehended the connections between the current and past stories. There is some beautiful and evocative writing here, but the story just never quite came together for me. ( )
  RandyRasa | Oct 3, 2021 |
Summer Fun by Jeanne Thornton is a great book and very powerful. It’s finely crafted, expansive yet taut, and, well, the sheer amount of character, theme, and history that Thornton managed to hold in her head while writing and then convey on the page is incredible. A lesser author couldn’t have done it. And the emotions she makes the reader feel? The way she writes hope and pain and loneliness? The things she forces the reader to consider, and the ways she does that? Equally impressive!

It’s not a book for everyone, though, and if I’d known how affecting it would be, I’d have picked a different time to read it because there’s definitely a certain headspace required and I didn’t quite have it. Basically, Thornton does not sugarcoat the lives of trans women, either in the past or the present, and she presses those realities on her readers. There’s abuse and trans-misogyny and substance abuse, for instance, and several trans characters are working through (what I read as) internalized trans-misogyny as well. The prose is also dense and dark, and Thornton doesn’t hold readers’ hands through it or her messages. You have to pay attention to this book and you can’t expect easy answers.

The plot, you ask? An elevator pitch might be, “A trans woman in New Mexico writes letters to her favourite musician”, but that compresses so much. For one thing, the lines blur quickly. How much of the detail of the musician’s life is true, and how much is fannish re-creation? How much does the writer’s outlook colour everything? What is the goal of the letters? Really, Summer Fun is about hope and loss and longing, about finding yourself and learning to be comfortable in your skin, and about connection and the power of music and the many ways trans women live in the world.

It’s a great book, as I said. It stirs emotions and asks hard questions. Thornton’s won Lambdas and it’s easy to see why. It’s powerful and vivid and affecting, a worthy book for any queer-positive TBR. It is not the breezy summer read I expected (my bad there), but I’m very glad to have read it. ( )
  NinjaMuse | Aug 23, 2021 |
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From acclaimed author Jeanne Thornton, an epic, singular look at fandom, creativity, longing, and trans identity. Gala, a young trans woman, works at a hostel in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. She is obsessed with the Get Happies, the quintessential 1960s Californian band, helmed by its resident genius, B----. Gala needs to know: Why did the band stop making music? Why did they never release their rumored album, Summer Fun? And so she writes letters to B---- that shed light not only on the Get Happies, but paint an extraordinary portrait of Gala. The parallel narratives of B---- and Gala form a dialogue about creation--of music, identity, self, culture, and counterculture. Summer Fun is a brilliant and magical work of trans literature that marks Thornton as one of our most exciting and original novelists.

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