One of the signature horror novels of the 1990s, Dan Simmons’s magisterial Summer of Night is now twenty-five years old. In the course of that quarter century, it has firmly established itself as a classic of the genre, a book whose capacity to shock, amuse, move and horrify remains undiminished.
The story takes place in Elm Haven, Illinois in 1960 and begins at an iconic moment: the last day of school before the long summer vacation begins. But at Old Central School, soon due to close its doors forever, something ancient and implacable has begun to quicken, its hour come round at last. Soon, impossible figures, some of them long dead, are proliferating throughout Elm Haven, transforming what should be an idyllic summer into the crazed and bloody precursor to a new Dark Age.
Set against these horrific incursions is a wonderfully characterized band of adolescent boys – along with one unforgettable young girl – who alone understand the nature of the menace that threatens their hometown. Turning away from the standard pursuits of summer – baseball, treasure hunts, overnight camping trips – the youthful members of the Bike Patrol find themselves serving as the last line of defense against an apparently unbeatable enemy. The account of their struggle against impossible odds is one of the major accomplishments of modern horror fiction.
From the opening evocation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House to its fiery conclusion in the halls of Old Central, Summer of Night balances graphic supernatural horror with a profusely detailed portrait of “the secrets and silences” of childhood. In the process, it takes a time, place and way of life that are now long gone, bringing them indelibly to life.
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