Synopsis: It’s the summer of 1960 in Elm Haven, Illinois, and five 12-year old boys are forming the bonds that a lifetime of changes will never erase. But then a dark cloud threatens the bright promise of summer vacation: on the last day of school, their classmate Tubby Cooke vanishes. Soon, the group discovers stories of other children who once disappeared from Elm Haven. And there are other strange things happening in town: unexplained holes in the ground, a stranger dressed as a World War I soldier, and a rendering-plant truck that seems to be following the five boys. The friends realize that there is a terrible evil lurking in Elm Haven…and they must be the ones to stop it.
Holly: This book. OH, THIS GLORIOUS BOOK! The nostalgic feelings of summers gone by, the atmospheric small-town, the age-old sense of evil hiding around a dark corner.. I loved this so damn much!
We chose this as our very first Grimdragon readalong & I think it was a pretty successful one! I can see why you were okay with reading this for a third time.. it’s one of those books, truly. In the same vein of IT, Boy’s Life, The Body/Stand By Me & more recently, Stranger Things. There is just something so magical about these kind of stories.
I’ve been collecting Dan Simmons over the last two years or so because he is an author I knew I would love & if this is any indication, I’m in for a treat. For sure. My only problem is I just can’t imagine any of his other work topping this! I’d struggle to come up with even a minor criticism of this book. It is definitely a new favorite!
Corey: I was really excited to read it again! I read it about three years ago, and at a guess, the first time I read it was probably around 2004! So it’s cool to revisit the book at different phases of my life! And I think this was a pretty perfect book to choose for the first Grimdragon readalong…it’s just so well written, the characters are all quite memorable, it’s dripping with atmosphere & nostalgia. And it seems like everyone is loving it!!
I think I’ve read around ten Dan Simmons books, and this one has always been my favorite. Really a cool experience to get to read this with you & a whole bunch of friends!
Holly: It was a fun experience reading in such a large group & discussing it each week, definitely!
One of the only complaints we saw mentioned was the attention to detail that Dan Simmons uses. I can see how it could be cumbersome for some. I personally love detail when it helps to set up the story, which I feel like he did with this particular book. Being from a small town myself, Dan Simmons really captured the atmospheric quality of that perfectly. It’s right up there with King & the nostalgic intensity he writes with!
I truly felt like I was a part of the Bike Patrol, riding around Elm Haven & looking for adventure on a sticky summer night, only to be met with this underlying fear of an unknown presence in the small town.
Although I didn’t find this scary, it was certainly suspenseful! My copy clocked in around 600 pages, yet it was fairly fast-paced. What I didn’t expect was to feel so deeply during this. It is so much more than “just” a horror novel. Simmons snatched me up in this web of emotions that he weaved & my cold black heart was completely captured by these characters & their stories. It was whimsical, brutal, heartbreaking & mysterious. IT WAS FUCKING MAGICAL!!!
Corey: I feel like Summer of Night is almost perfectly balanced as far as the story & the amount of detail are concerned. Like you said, it serves the story, and doesn’t feel too drawn out or unnecessary (a criticism I’ve had of some of Simmons’ more recent books).
There really are some desperately heartbreaking moments in this book….shit, there’s a lot! But that just speaks to the strength of the characters in this book. You can’t help but love these kids! And as one horrifying event after another unfolds, you really do feel more & more like you are that last member of the Bike Patrol, playing a pickup game of baseball, checking out the Free Show, or, you know…fighting off unspeakable horrors with stolen guns & Molotov cocktails!
Holly: There are many layers to the story. This isn’t just a horror novel. Oh no! It’s much more than that. It’s about friendship & facing adversity & being brave & surviving.
I love this book. I love it with my whole heart. I love it so much I want to carry it close to me always, tucked under my skin as it becomes a part of my very being.
I am so fucking glad I finally read it!
Also, I’ll never look at a rendering truck the same way again thanks to this 😆
Corey: I’ll confess to having never heard of a rendering truck prior to reading Summer of Night. Yuck!!
And you’re right, there’s so much more to this than just the horror elements. It really blurs the line between genre fiction and literary fiction. I always think of this book as a coming-of-age story first, and a horror novel second. I mean, if you stripped Summer of Night of all its horrific/supernatural elements, you’d still be left with a whole bunch of great characters & dialogue. Elm Haven almost feels like a character in its own way…just a living & breathing thing, so vividly realized in Simmons’ gorgeous writing.
Holly: Yeah dude, I had never heard of them until I moved out West. And then it was this whole thing. Who knew?! So as if they weren’t already a bit sinister, Simmons takes that & makes it even more fucked up as a pivotal part of the horror that haunts the town, these kids.. it’s pretty badass!
Summer of Night will forever garner comparisons, but I think it earns a place alongside those on its own merits. If you look past the somewhat typical horror tropes of the creepy crawlers & the unknown terror that lurks beneath the exterior of a close knit small town with cozy homes, fields of corn & kids riding their bikes down gravel roads.. there is so much to be seen. A deep profundity begins to surface. There is something so damn beautiful about a story of survival. Even one seemingly as far-fetched as this one with a haunted bell & massive Tremors-like worms, dead soldiers & yes, rendering trucks.
It’s no wonder nostalgia is such a powerful sense for many of us. It strikes a nerve. We were all young once, we have all had to overcome something at one point or another. The feeling of sentimentality is still the same, even if one has never experienced any of these things. It’s an odd thing, for sure! As Dwight Schrute says “Nostalgia is truly one of the great human weaknesses.. second only to the neck!”
The Grimdragons Rating: 5 carcass-filled rendering trucks out of 5!