Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: 'Last Summer' by Evan Hunter

3 / 5 Stars

‘Last Summer’ was written by Salvatore Lombino using the pen name ‘Evan Hunter’, which he reserved for his mainstream fiction pieces ('Ed McBain’ was the pseudonym Lombino used for his detective novels and police procedurals). 

The hardcover edition was published in 1968; this Signet paperback was published in April 1969. [Hunter published a sequel, ‘Come Winter’, in 1973. ]

Needless to say, a paperback like ‘Last Summer’ isn’t complete without a great James Bama cover; unfortunately, Bama worked for Bantam Books, so Signet made do with a rather underwhelming photo-collage cover.

And, needless to say, ‘Summer’ is a lot milder than the lurid cover blurbs would have you believe.

It’s the late 60s, and high school sophomores Sandy, Peter, and David are longtime Summer Friends, spending their days all season long on Greenwood Island (a fictional location on the Atlantic Coast; perhaps a stand-in for Martha’s Vineyard). 

David is a self-confident athlete; Peter a self-effacing intellectual; and Sandy, with her long blonde hair, bikini collection, and great tan, is easily the grooviest chick on the island.

In between lounging on the beach, sneaking beers from their parent’s refrigerators, and sailing around the island, our sunkissed trio take the time to tame a seagull, take in racy Art House films, and help out with the chores at adult parties (whose ‘Mad Men’ –era attendees drink and smoke to excess, clumsily try the latest dances meant for kids half their age, and tipsily grope Sandy).

Rhoda is also summering on the island…..except she’s short, Jewish, pale, dark-haired, wears braces, clumsy, neurotic, deeply insecure, and periodically depressed.

With the sort of amused, slightly mocking attitude WASPs display to those Born Less Fortunate, our trio decide to take Rhoda under their wing. Rhoda is thrilled to be hanging out with the coolest teens on the island. But there may be a price to pay when you hang out with the Beautiful People….

‘Summer’ is best described as ‘A Separate Peace’, set on the beach.

Author Hunter employs the same prose structure as John Knowles: the first-person narrative is a flashback coming from an older, sadder, and wiser Peter. There are lengthy monologues in which Peter offers a accurate dissection of adult foibles, as well as the emotional upheavals of adolescence.

Extended sections of dialogue, occupying several pages, make a regular appearance in the narrative; and there are frequent descriptive passages, saturated with a deliberately poetic and contemplative atmosphere, that evoke those carefree Golden Times of  Youth.

The novel’s denouement will seem rather underwhelming to modern audiences. Indeed, the adolescent explorations that surface in ‘Summer’ likely will draw amused titters from modern readers aware of the antics of the ‘Sandy’ who stars in Paul Ruditis’s 2005 schlock novel about wayward teen girls, ‘Rainbow Party’.

Even so, if you’re in the mood for a contemplative novel that melds the wistful tenor of ‘A Separate Peace’, the Sandpiper's song 'Come Saturday Morning', and Spanky and Our Gang's 'Like To Get To Know You', and transplants them to a beach filled with groovy 60s vibes, then ‘Summer’ is worth a look.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Did you even bother to read the book that you just reviewed? First of all, the 3 main characters are NOT long-time friends (Peter and David meet Sandy for the first time, right at the beginning of the book), the island is not called Greenwood, and Rhoda is never identified as Jewish.

There are other discrepancies, as well, but I don't want to waste any more time correcting you.

Memo to anyone who bothers to read this so-called review: CAVEAT EMPTOR!!!