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The Dead of SummerReview - The Dead of Summer
by Camilla Way
Harcourt, 2008
Review by Robert P. McParland, Ph.D.
Apr 15th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 16)

Camilla Way's The Dead of Summer is a document in adolescent alienation and estrangement. It is rendered in the convincing narrative voice of Anita Naidu, a neglected and moody British girl of Pakistani descent. Way's narrative alternates between compelling and repelling, alluring and creepy, poetic and blunt. Anita, now twenty, recalls the summer that she was drawn into one of the worst crimes ever experienced in southeast London. She has survived a killing spree to tell this story. In some respects, this novels is like across between S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and William Golding's Lord of the Flies. One might ask, how could these kids be involved with that? What daring and darkness lurk beneath the surface of these alienated teens?

Anita has always been a bit disconnected socially. That is, until she meets Denis and Kyle. The novel moves from Anita's home, where she reveres and laments the loss of her mother who has died. There her siblings tend to brush her aside and her father drinks and sits dully in front of the television, trying to forget. Outside the home, Anita draws the "special ed. kid" Denis to her. She is attracted to Kyle, in whom a violent undercurrent seems appears to be like a ticking time bomb. Anita finds it curious that Kyle's sister has been missing and one senses that all is not right with this. This odd little unholy trinity are taunted and chased by the lowlife demons of the town. They explore the docks, caves, and sand mines of the coast. The landscape, emerging as something of a Dantesque Inferno, reflects the vacancy of their lives as they cling to each other.

Camilla Way is at times sharply descriptive and there are several fine passages. Early in the book, we read Anita speaking about her mother:

"She was the life of our house. The life, the glue, the point. Her broad Yorkshire accent, her wide lap, her laughter and her love would gently calm Push's restless energy, force my sisters to share their secret twin world with the rest of us, pull my father from his silences, and forgive me for being the person I was.

    And the rope that kept my family tethered was unbreakable, I thought...."

Anita disappears into her mother's closet to find her in the scents of her that linger there. Eloquently we have been introduced to a sensitive girl, as the first chapter ends. Ah, but she's a bit off too, perhaps. Who is this guy that she sees through the open window. We first see Kyle in the dark, at 2 A.M., through the cigarette smoke she blows: shoeless, mysterious, creepy.

Anita's narrative wavers between sensitivity and brusqueness. She is sometimes a poet, sometimes a flippant, traumatized kid. She has avoided relationships throughout much of her life and now she apparently intends to have a relationship with us readers by letting us in on a gruesome story.

We get hints of Kyle's potential combustibility: "But as we made our way up Myre Street a silence fell between us. Suddenly Kyle's face was tight and closed again, his head bet almost to his chest, and when we got to my house he barely seemed to notice when I said goodbye." 

In the typescript, the dark undertones of the novel as indicated by boldface sentences that begin sections of the story. We read often about days that drag along: "The days slouched on..." "The weeks before the end of the term dragged on." "A few empty, tedious days passed." "They seemed endless, those long, hot days." We read about characters who apparently do not communicate well with each other: "That first day Kyle and I didn't talk much." "Neither Kyle nor I were big talkers..." We are situated in an environment of secrets where communication has broken down and Anita finds herself outside of many conversations: "Later, when my sisters had come back drunk, and my dad had fallen of the sofa and Push had gone to bed, I lay awake and listened to Bela and Esha whispering in the dark." "That night I lay awake listening to our neighbors arguing." 

These characters are awkward; "classified" special ed. students, they are needy, "different," alienated from the mainstream of their peers. Some consider alienation a psychological concept that refers to feeling, or a state of mind. Others view alienation as an objective condition, a way of being. The characters in this novel come closer to the latter definition. For them, there is anomie and personal disorganization. Cut adrift and conflicted, they become anchored in each other. They meet in a relationship that impacts upon all of their lives. Their environment of muddy banks and mines in the heat of summer mirrors the trouble in their lives: "It was a summer with no clouds and no breeze." Memos from New Cross Hospital from conversations between Dr. Barton and Anita Naidu years after the tragedy intersect with the memory. It is a memory that may haunt and raise questions for any reader of this novel.

© 2008 Robert P. McParland

       

Robert P. McParland, Ph.D., Felician College, NJ   


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