Summerville by H.L. Sudler

Wow. This is an intense book. I read it in one 7 hour sitting and when I finished, I felt so many different things that initially I thought that I would not be able to rate this book. I took a shower and pondered on it and after some thought about how I would review this book and what I would say, I have actually decided to rate it with 5 stars with strings attached.Because of the attached strings, this review will be quite long and I apologize in advance but I feel it is fair to allow readers a generous taste of what they might encounter in reading this book.

There is an afterword in which the author explains that he originally wrote this as a serial for a newspaper. That explains certain elements of the story that I ran across and this information might be good to include  at the beginning of the book rather than the end but either way, good information to know. The author also goes into some explanation at the end of the book discussing what he was trying to achieve with each character. I think when the story was novelized there must have been  a way to get that information into the flow of the plot more efficiently because I think it would have helped the reader understand  what was being conveyed.

I decided this book deserves 5 stars because despite the very controversial and disturbing nature of much of the story, there are so many wonderful discussion points within the content of this book that individuals, book clubs and university lit classes could spend months deconstructing and discussing the characters, their story lines and the social issues embedded in this book.  And that is the testament of a 5 star read.

For people uncomfortable with subject matter and characters who are gay and lesbian then this story will prove challenging. Because in addition to the issues surrounding sexual orientation, there are issues that are inner-community struggles that will push buttons for LGBT people. One for instance ( hands up, it was for me) was the stereotyping of the single lesbian character and the very first reference to her as a dyke. While I appreciate the fact that this is a community reclaimed word, the undertones in some of the story felt very misogynistic and so – button pushing. But also the stuff of wonderful debate and discussion.

Some of the issues the story dealt with were: parents and children; father/son dynamics; the issues faced by gay parents and gay children; the issues faced (in this case) by men who identified as heterosexual but who had sexual and intimate feelings for other men; men who were formerly married and living a heterosexual life but came out as gay later in life; generational conflicts between those born in more tolerant post-AIDS society versus those born in earlier, more closeted generations; race; racial stereotyping both from within and without particular racial groups; misogyny; cultural stereotypes and taboos; rape and power issues (both male and female);stalking; class issues and bullying and coercion among members of the military. Yeah. I know. You are reeling right?

All of this is set within one summer community – Rehoboth Beach, Delaware- over the course of one summer.  The setting was perfect and brilliantly done. First, I really felt like I got to know the community and its boundaries and character. I also thought it was wonderful that Delaware was used. I have a goal to read a book set in each of the 50 United  States and it is shocking how difficult and under-represented many of the states are in terms of settings in books. It made me want to visit this beach side community and while the community may be familiar and even old hat to those from the East Coast, as a West Coaster (non-Californian) I enjoy being given a travelogue of places more off the beaten path.

Spun from all of these elements, is a fairly intense thriller/suspense story.  I am not giving any spoilers on that front. Suffice to say that for 7.5 hours, aside from being gob smacked at all the social issues and wondering who I was going to give the book to next so that I could discuss it, I was glued to the same spot in order to find out how all these threads were going to play out.

There are some frustrations in the story. Some of the story lines feel incomplete or make the reader feel like they lack information and want more. Some of the characters don’t make sense and the female characters need to be made more substantial given the complexity and quality of the male characters and  their stories.  There are loose ends and apparently the sequel is being written. But due to the overwhelming strengths in other areas of this book the misses were minor compared to  the hits.

This is a great book for book clubs. This is a great book for people who like to delve into deep book discussions. This is a great book for its diversity in so many areas of life. And once again, I ask, is it because of race or sexual orientation that books like these are relegated to niche shelves in independent or specialty bookstores? Because I think readers are both bold enough and mature enough to pick this one up from right on that front display shelf in any bookshop and go home feeling like it was money well spent and discovering an author that they will enjoy now and in the future.

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