It’s hard to find more on the nose summer reading than The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable. But summer reading it is.
Perhaps its just a me thing, but there has always been something completely different about summer reading in comparison to winter reading, or even fall and spring reading. There’s a gumption to it, a hunger, a lust to sit in the sun turning page after page as time drifts on with no care in the world. It’s lighter than our usual reading. It’s rare you’ll find a reader on the beach with the classic history of the Soviet Union or the historical account of the friendship and competition between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Not to say that this person doesn’t exist, but summer is about enjoying life, enjoying the time that is here and now, not worrying about the tomorrows that may come.
Which, when you come to think about it, is essentially the concept at war within the book. Well, it is at least, one of the things at war within the book. Not only are the happy-go-lucky days of summer being leveled by realities of people’s lives (marriages, families, children, work), but also World War II looms in the midst. The Book of Summer, and the actual book of summer the novel is referencing, is a time skip between the present life problems (2013) of Elisabeth Young Packard and the former matriarch of the family, Ruby Young Packard (1940s).
Elisabeth is having a mid-life sorta devastation, not that she is midlife or that any of the problems were of her own hand, but destruction in her life has occurred. I’ll leave some of the more gory details to your own reading, but Elisabeth, also known as Bess, finds herself in the middle of an aggressive divorce, slightly homeless, and on a mission to rescue her stubborn and wild mother from their cliff-hanging summer home. To say Bess has a handful is to say the least.
Ruby finds her happy-go-lucky days slowly going extinct as Hitler looms across the ocean. Whether her family is struggling to pull her head down from the clouds, to take care of those far out of reach, or she’s just trying to accept those she’s calls family, Ruby hasn’t found her summers to be the easiest thing of late.
And to break away from the ambiguous summary for a moment, some of Ruby’s moments, thoughts and events, were more difficult to read. Hitler is pillaging Europe. He’s trapping, containing, killing, starving, torturing, Jews of all ages. Jewish twins were used for scientific study and experiments. People were no longer known as people, but as tattooed numbers. Their hair, which for more religious female Jews is an incredibly private experience, was shaven and taken away. Ribs popped through their skin, nails torn from their beds, love was a fleeting memory. The Holocaust, World War II, genocide, whatever you may call it, was a complete an utter atrocity. Not only by the violent antagonists and predators, but by those that sat idly by and watched.
Ruby was one of those people that turned a blind eye, that didn’t want to get involved until their hand was forced, that felt no true compassion, no compelling urge to help, and that is something I found incredibly hard to read. Perhaps it is because I am Jewish, that my grandparents fled Belarus as troops were nearing, that so much of my history has been lost to gas chambers and incinerators, or just plainly claimed away. But truly, it is because I could never imagine turning a blind eye to such indifference, to such pain, to such horror, it is, in itself, an atrocity.
Onto the summary once more, however, as World War II is not the only war discerned within the text, there is also the war of the heart. Corny, I know, but incredibly fitting when you consider the decade. Being gay was unseemly, illegal, backwards, and all around problematic. Behind more than closed doors, it was unspoken and shameful. And was in many ways, the battlefield of many families. Fathers lying to themselves, hating themselves, trying to destroy themselves, there is never peace when ones true self is a sham.
It’s interesting, to say the least, what Gable wrote about gays in the military. It was almost unbelievable when she began, the context of such, the information, it didn’t fit with what we know now in this open and politically correct era. It only truly began to make some sort of sense the more I read on, but even still, it’s so dividing.
And a thoroughly enjoyable read, I highly recommend picking up The Book of Summer for one of your summers books.