Dan Simmons’ “Summer of Night”

I just recently read the book “Summer of Night”, by Dan Simmons. I was told by a friend that it was similar to Stephen king’s “It” in the sense that it an recurrent involves a group of young kids, back in the early 1960’s who join together to fight ancient evil that is awakening to prey upon the townsfolk. Fair enough, but that is where the similarities end. This book stands on its own as a classic of the “horrors of childhood” genre.
Basically, without giving too much away, there is an evil entity that has recruited a few of the locals: a school principal, a teacher, the driver of a rendering truck, and a few animated corpses to pave the way for its apocalyptic scheme. Kids start disappearing or ending up dead then later reappear as puppets of this entity that resides in a bell that is kept in the building of the local grade school that has just been shut down for good at the end of the school year.
The main characters, a group of misfit kids (apparently based on Dan Simmons, his brother, and their childhood friends), decide to investigate the disappearance of one of their classmates and stumble upon the dark truth and against all odds decide to fight it since the adults seem to be oblivious of what is really going on. One poignant scene that drives home this disparity is when one of the boys, Mike O’Rourke, a choir boy, tries to confide in his mentor, Father Cavanaugh, a no nonsense priest whom he has befriended. The priest initially tries to talk the boy down and allay his fears by offering more realistic alternatives for some of the things he’s been experiencing. Even so, he decides to humor Mike who seems sincerely frightened, by agreeing to follow him to the cemetery where one of the animated corpses, a World War I dough-boy who used to be an unwelcome suitor of his grandmother when she was younger and now haunts her outside of her window late at night, is buried. At first, there is nothing at his grave-site but some disturbed earth which “Father C” tries to brush off as cemetery upkeep. Just as they’re ready to leave, Mike spots a white face in the shadows, so the priest tries to call out what he believes is a prankster trying to spook them, but soon finds that he is horribly misguided in this assessment.
The book started a little slowly, while Mr. Simmons sets the story up, but just past midway or so, things begin to really get interesting, with the last hundred pages or so culminating in a really exciting dénouement. I would love to see a movie version of this as there are some truly weird and spooky images throughout this book. I understand that there is a sequel called “A Winter Haunting”, which deals with one of the main characters, the young Dale Stewart, now an adult, dealing with the mental and emotional scars from the events of that summer and how they have affected his life. Another book which is not quite a sequel but takes place within the “Summer of Night” universe is “Children of the Night” a modern day vampire yarn that features, in a supporting role, Mike O’Rourke, the altar boy, grown up and become a priest.
Here is a link to a page where Dan Simmons actually posted some personal photographs from his youth showing some of the spots in his hometown that inspired the day-to-day detail for the book as well as photos of him, his brother and their playmates who were the models for the characters in the book: http://dansimmons.com/about/snapshots.htm


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