I wanted to like this so much more than I did. And this says a lot about both myself and the book/writer. Even though my response isn’t that friendly to the book there were some occasional one liners that made me smile.
When I requested a copy of this book from the publisher,* I wanted to identify with the characters, I wanted to revel in our shared experiences of growing up in the south during a certain time, but I just couldn’t.
Perhaps this is because I didn’t grow up in the deep south (I grew up in a military town in NC) or maybe because my family wasn’t too religious, (we went to church some times, but we were Episcopalian and compared to other southern denominations, they’re pretty damn liberal), or perhaps it’s just because of the writing or the non-shared experiences of the book that i just couldn’t click with it.
In essence this book focuses on the tragedy of one summer at a gay conversion “therapy” camp. The main character carried the burden of that summer his entire life and it has come back to haunt him through a slasher movie that is based no a book about the camp written by a counselor and the character/slasher is an amalgamation of him and the other campers. Maybe it’s this burden that drove me crazy and kept me from identifying with/enjoying the book/character.
The book was a slog mostly because of the clunky use of flashbacks. I get that White was trying to make the flashbacks appear as all of a sudden something triggered the flashback and then the memory came, but it just didn’t work for me. They were either too subtle and it took me a minute to realize there was a time change or they were too blunt and I had to stop reading for a bit and come back to the book at a later time.
What got me the most, and what I probably enjoyed the least was the ending. It got way too meta (Wikipedia entry – I’m pretty sure I’m using it correctly) and way too on the nose. When the characters are talking about ending their own novels they’re writing and then they use the endings to end this novel and then it’s still left open on what happens, just blah and meh and ugh. It just seemed trite and wanton, there was no reason for the book not to end 15-20 pages prior to the ending or even just a couple of pages. The throwback was forced at best and honestly it just annoyed me.
Recommendation: Pass. Even though I have driven through Bucksnort, TN and found a bunch of other OMG this is hilarious that I know these things/can see these traits in people I know, I couldn’t connect with this book. Part of it was style, but most of it was substance. I instinctively gave this a two star review on Goodreads on accident and went back and bumped it to three when I realized it would probably get a 2.5 star.
Opening Line: “A Saturday afternoon in late May, Bobby came into our office talking about a movie.”
Closing Line: “I write how sorry i am for not contacting her sooner, but I was afraid, a coward, and I am trying to be braver now. I try and try and try every day, all day long.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
*I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest opinion. No goods or money were exchanged.
Additional Quotes from How to Survive a Summer
“I hated groups. Queer groups especially. All those gaping wounds in one place.” (21)
“Bevy once told me that we can’t help loving the places we come from – no matter how broken or terrible they were. Sometimes people just like to talk, and she was no exception.” (37)
“I asked what ‘husky’ meant, but neither one said. I had always heard the word in reference to the brand of blue jeans I wore, but here, for the first time, I realized the word had another definition. Something that had less to do with the pants and more to do with the bodies that wore them.” (58)
“My erotic life existed primarily in the subjunctive. Past encounters filled with disappointment, the fumbling and embarrassment due, in part, to my own clumsiness. The future didn’t promise any change — I was what I was no matter the expertise of the person in bed with me.” (88)