I really enjoyed this book, it had a bit of a meta feel to it, which really worked to its benefit, and made it a more compelling read for me. It was hard and sad, but it felt so genuine and raw that I could not help but feel for Will Dillard the narrator of the story. We meet Will right when he finds out that very dark part of his adolescence has been made into a horror movie. Literally, one of the worst times of his life was now a slasher flick, and it sends him into a tailspin. That secret and pain he has been pushing down and ignoring for ten years has finally come for him. And it will change everything.
Before I get into more of the book though, let’s talk wine! This book does involve a few pretty intense moments (read very well rendered slasher flick scenes) so a refreshing glass of vino will do you good. When browsing my local wine store with this novel in mind, I spotted this bottle of Sauvignon Blanc by Chilean winemaker Root 1 Wines the label I felt connected well to the mystical women who were Will’s ancestors, and their tag line “Character Comes for Your Roots” was just too good to pass up. Happily is a very nice bottle of wine, not too sharp as some Sav Blancs can be, but with sufficient bite, it also goes for under $10 bucks a bottle, so a total win.
Back to the story…Will has been barely living for the last decade, he was in doctoral program he had no desire to see through, he barely had any friends, he was like a ghost. Living life in a fog of apathy and disdain. He was careless with the few people in his life that cared for him, and the rest he had pushed away.
His father, that was a no-go. Being the gay son of a Baptist preacher was going to have its complications, and the wound that had opened when the camp his dad sent him to “rehabilitate” him of his unnatural desires had ended in tragedy never healed. Amends where never made, he just shut his dad out, had not time to look back, until the movie. He can’t escape it though, no matter what he does he is drawn to watch it, to relive memories he has worked so hard to bury.
On a whim he gets on the road back to Mississippi to visit the old ghosts of his past, and there are many them. He has to make peace with the memory of this mother, the love he had for her and the pain of her loss. He wanted to see the other boys who had endured those horrible four weeks in the Delta with him. He wanted to go back to the place it happened and finally put it all to rest. What ensues is a strange and painful journey that allows Will to finally be free.
I found the story not only compelling, but incredibly thoughtful and deep. The inner struggle in Will, of needing to be the son his father wanted, even when he knew it was impossible. The pain and guilt he carried for the things he did to try and be that boy he just could never be, were heartbreaking.
Also I think the author does a really amazing job of portraying the effects of trauma. The fog that Will existed in, how every ounce of his energy was spent in keeping all the monsters of his past at bay. How forcing himself not to remember the powerlessness of the camp experience robbed him of the ability to feel anything at all.
To reclaim his life he had to finally face what was taken from him, and he had to try and see the people who had lived through that summer with him for what they were, fellow survivors. I liked that the author was not trying to create heroes or villains in this story, he was just trying to save Will from himself and give him a shot at a fuller life. The messed up things and the bad choices would always be there, but the ability to live a life with meaning was all there for him too.
The storytelling is also dynamic and blends in lots of elements I really loved, a strong sense of place, an almost fairy tale feeling for the parts when Will talked about the stories his mom told him as child, and even the horror scenes were rendered with a lot of skill.
I look forward to more from Nick White.
You can buy How To Survive a Summer HERE.
You can learn more about the author Nick White, HERE.
Hope you give this novel and wine a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Cheers and Happy Reading,