Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review of the day: Indian Summer




John Knowles is still famous for his debut novel, A Separate Peace, although his other novels never caught on with any enduring popularity.  Indian Summer , his third book, is the story of Cleet Kinsolving’s struggle to grow up after returning from WWII.

Cleet spends the summer working as a general assistant for his best friend, Neil Reardon, and his wealthy family. The Reardons – a Kennedy-style Irish Catholic clan living in a sprawling compound on the Connecticut River – have plenty of their own problems to deal with.

Neil toils at make-work projects like current affairs commentary in order to justify living off his father’s fortune. He is heading for a crack up unless he can find a way around his Catholic conviction that he can only have sex with his wife for procreation – now that she is pregnant, he is out of luck.

Neil’s wife Georgia is a fish out of water. Having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks, she is not comfortable with the Reardon’s wealth. Having grown up Protestant, she is not comfortable with her husband’s religion, especially when he brings it into the bedroom.

Neil’s robber baron father, austere mother, and divorcee sister; Georgia’s sad sack father, blousy mother, and floozy little sister; Cleet’s apple pie little brother; and other assorted relatives and hangers-on serve as foils for the main characters. But none of the people are sympathetic or even all that interesting. Cleet and Neil are both despicable in their ways, with nothing very redeeming in their stories.

The theme of the story, repeated several times, seems to be that people are never ready for the phase of life that they are in – they are like actors playing last week’s play in front of this week’s stage set. Is that as simple as “things change”? If so, that is pretty trite. Towards the end, Georgia suggests something only marginally better: that everyone gets stuck with an idea of himself that he cannot grow out of. She cannot get past the idea of herself as a struggling young actress. Her father cannot shake the idea that he is 19 and setting out to conquer the world. And Neil still thinks he is a schoolboy being bullied by other kids. In contrast, Cleet lives in the moment.

Knowles has a smooth way with words and offers some keen observations on family relationships and the influence of money. Because of his prowess as an author, the book is entertaining and speeds by quickly enough. But it does not hold up well to analysis.


OTHER REVIEWS
(If you would like your reviews of this book, or any other book by John Knowles, listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

NOTES
This is the first book I read for the Hotchpot Cafe's Birth Year Reading Challenge.


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