Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: "The Summer Without Men" by Siri Hustvedt

I absolutely fell in love with Siri Hustvedt’s What I loved last year. As a person who loves Paul Auster, and who is dying for another published work of fiction that may or may not come, it was a much-needed experience (since the two are married in real life, I make this comparison with slight hesitance, so as not to come off as cheap). It was a brush with metaphysical that made me remember why I loved reading Paul Auster in the first place, and, more so, why I love reading in general. Her most recent novel, besides the one she published this year, The Summer Without Men, seems like a very odd experiment in novel writing. It acts like a short story, but is nearly 200 pages long, so at times it can’t possibly hold your attention while it performs it’s literary acrobatics in a box it doesn’t quite fit into. The best comparison for the story itself would be Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, set in modern times. Mia Fredrickson, the hero of the novel, is fresh out of a stay in a psychiatric hospital after her husband of thirty years suggested that they each take a, in his words, “pause”. After her slight mental breakdown, she moves back in with her mother, and, as the title suggests, spends the summer without any strong interactions with men. She teaches a creative writing course to a group of young girls discovering the pitfalls of adolescents, spends time with a girl her own age with an abusive husband, and group of her mother’s friends, most of whom are knocking on heaven’s door. It is a clever concept, but it didn’t need to be a novel. It’s padded with many abstract scenes in Mia’s head that seem out of place in a story this grounded. It’s not terrible by any means; just not as good as it should be coming from Hustvedt.

Rating: 3/5

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