The Feats of Strength are an integral part of our annual Smugglivus Tradition. In the Feats of Strength, we each dare each other to read a book that we know is so far beyond the other’s comfort zone as to put it in another galaxy altogether. It is more than a mere Dare – it is a Feat of Strength.
Author: Dan Simmons
Publisher: Warner Books
Publication date: 1991 (first edition)
Paperback: 600 pages
Stand alone or series: First of a series.
How did I get this book: Bought.
In the summer of 1960 in Elm Haven, Illinois, five 12-year-old boys forge the powerful bonds that a lifetime of change will not break. An ancient, sinister evil lurks in the dark, and when a long-silent bell peals in the middle of the deepest night, the people know it marks the beginning of terror. Now Mike, Duane, Dale, Harlen, and Kevin must wage a fraternal war of blood against an arcane abomination.
Why did I read this book: Thea made me do it for our Smugglivus 2010 Feats of Strength
Warning: this post contains spoilers.
You may be wondering why exactly this is a “Feat of Strength”. It’s ok, I too wondered when Thea first suggested this book. After all, for the past year or so I have been much more appreciative of Horror novels, I even bought and read some of my own accord. I never read this author before (although he is one of Thea’s favourites) so it’s not a case of Thea wanting me to give someone a second chance (cough Jacqueline Carey cough). The book is not THAT heavy that it could be seen as a literal feat of strength (hee) and even the blurb sounded ok to me. What is it then? I didn’t find out until I sat down to read it:
The Summer of Night is a Feat of Strength because it is so freaking similar to freaking It by Stephen King.
Now, if you haven’t been around the blog for long, you should know that in our first year of book smuggling during our first ever Halloween Week, Thea dared me to read my first full length Stephen King book (not counting The Gunslinger), It. The result was posted as a conversation in which we talk about how I loved the first 1000 pages of that book only to find myself hating the ending with the force of a thousand storms and retroactively hating the entire book. Fair? No. But that’s how I felt. And you can read about it here.
So this is my Smugglivus 2010 Feat of Strength and it seems that every year I find myself in a difficult position. I guess this is part of the fun –it is a feat of strength because it takes me so outside my comfort zone; in this case, I am outside my comfort zone as a reviewer because I simply don’t know how to address this book.
Because Summer of Night is basically It only with a better ending. It is funny (NOT) how I keep bumping into books only to be reminded of other books. So how do I review or talk about THIS book when I am reminded so much of the OTHER book? I hit a wall. I just re-read my thoughts on It and I could literally, copy and paste them here (minus the thoughts on the ending) and it would be relevant to Summer of Night. The things I loved about It, I loved about Summer of Night: the characters, the kids and their relationship with each other and with their families, how it is all like the Goonies only super scary and when they all get together in the end to fight the Evil Forces of Doom that are about to kill them, it is super cool; how both share the small town feel and a vivid 60s setting; even the writing I thought similar. Even the problems with the novel are similar: Summer of Night is a tad too long and a bit too repetitive in places although less so than It.
Unlike It the majority of the novel doesn’t happen in flashbacks. The kids are the main characters – as kids – and remain so without the appearances of their future selves (Dan Simmons apparently saved that to the sequels).
Do you see my problem here??? I am finding it really hard to concentrate solely on Summer of Night – this happened as I read the book too. I kept being distracted by so many similar plotlines: the group of kids are all boys except for one girl, the main kid has a younger brother whom he loves a lot (in It, it’s this love for a younger brother that moves the main character), the loss of innocence over one summer (although these two books do not hold the rights of that trope – it is a common enough one), etc, etc.
In all fairness, the characters DO stand on their own; they are different, with different motivations and backgrounds. And I actually quite enjoyed the book: it was suitably scary, perhaps even more so than It because instead of a freaky-clown-who-is-an-alien, the majority of the scary bits here are of that sort of thing that really do scare kids: the thing under the bed; the thing inside the wardrobe, fear of dark, ghosts and zombies. It was also quite heart-breaking in parts (Nooooooooooooo Duane!!!!) and the ending totally trumps that of It without any of the wtfuckery and all of the asskickery.
In the end, I would say this : if you liked It in all likelihood you will like Summer of Night (heck, Stephen King did). Me? I find out a truth about myself as a reader: the more a book resembles another, the less I like it. The “if you like (…) you will like (…)” does not seem to work for me, unfortunately.
I would though, like to hear from you: have you read these two books? How do you feel about them? Does similarity to another book put you off when reading a new one? Do share your thoughts!
Notable Quotes/Parts: I have to say I loved Cordie’s (the girl) asskickery.
Rating: I DON’T KNOW OK?
Reading next: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch