by Tom Wright
The tale is narrated by Biscuit, a teenage boy from Oak Cliff, Texas, who tells us about the summer he and his cousin LA found the raped and mutilated body of a young girl. It soon it emerges that the girl is not her killer’s first victim, nor, it seems, will she be the last if Biscuit’s psychic visions are to be believed. The race is on to find the killer before he claims another life.
Biscuit and his cousin LA, live with their grandmother, both families broken by abuse and violence. You do begin to wonder if every family in Oak Cliff has an abusive father; a dark-vein of incest and violence runs through the narrative, binding the disparate themes together.
The language is rich and lush and heavily descriptive; perfectly pitched for this tale set across one long, hot, humid southern summer. The language is the best of it; the plot is decidedly thin, loosely knit around the killings and abuse. The story wanders all over the place and never seems to get to the point. I still don’t really understand about the trip to Minnesota, it doesn’t help develop the characters and it doesn’t advance the story at all, the revelations it supported could as easily have come over a cup of coffee in the kitchen. It had no apparent purpose other than to broaden the scope and pad out the plot and the plot didn’t really need padding, what the plot needed was more focus and direction. It’s why I couldn’t love this book.
The writing is undoubtedly gorgeous but it needs more to hang on. A good sub plot would have done the trick and there was a stab at one, in Biscuit’s psychic flashes and the sudden appearance of the shaman woman, but neither were developed or went anywhere. The thing as a whole felt a little like summer’s day at the pool; we jump right in at the deep end with Biscuit and his life – no real beginning as such. We swim and paddle and mess around for two hundred and eighty-odd pages, then jump right out again, having been nowhere and done little, but had a pleasant enough time in between.
In short, What Dies in Summer is full of lovely moments and promise, but as a novel, it never quite delivered.