Novels for This Season

Tuesday July 31, 2012

By Guide Biography: Patrick Kennedy

Literature, sometimes, can be a welcome escape from our surroundings. We are now in the midst of summer, and I'm not sure anybody wants to be reminded how hot it is outside. So allow me to apologize for dedicating an entire post to descriptions of heat, sweat, humidity, and everything else that is so oppressive at this season. I just couldn't help myself.

And why couldn't I help myself? Because some of the most memorable descriptions in world literature are descriptions of summer at its muggiest. Albert Camus, for instance, evoked the dog days of summer with both humor and psychological insight. In The Stranger, Camus describes Algeria in late June. His characters are covered in sweat. And all of them are either extremely tense or extremely lackadaisical. The Stranger is a mostly study of loneliness and murder, but it's also a passing, thoroughly realistic examination of the ways that inescapable heat makes us feel.

Yet authors' reactions to summer can vary considerably. Dostoevsky set his novel Crime and Punishment in early July. As in The Stranger, oppressive heat helps to pump up the tension. But authors like Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, and John Barth crafted summertime scenes that are lush and easygoing. There is tension in their summer novels, though this tension alternates with moments of splendid calm.

What are some summer scenes that you remember from your own reading? How can authors use descriptions of June, July, or August to enhance the stories they are trying to tell? Feel free to send me your answers. And don't stay out in the sun too long.


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