Letting Go of Summer

When considering the perfect summertime book, you may think of lighthearted beach reads and stories that won’t pull you in too deep--after all, who wants to ruin the hopefulness of May and June by getting caught up in heavy or downhearted novels? Now, however, it's late August, and it's still hot, and you may feel so over summer--but is your reading list? We can help reinforce your late-season cynicism by recommending these great novels with serious and/or sinister summertime themes--disease, divorce, secrets, and murder, for starters--reminding you that summer is not all naps and warm breezes. Pick one up and start your journey of letting go!

Cover of Nemesis by Philip Roth

Nemesis by Philip Roth

In the stifling heat of "equatorial Newark,” a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability, and even death. This is the startling theme of Philip Roth’s wrenching Nemesis: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children. At the center is a vigorous, dutiful twenty-three-year-old playground director, javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. Focusing on his dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground--and on the everyday realities he faces--Roth leads his protagonist through every range of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain. 

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

Cover of Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'FarrellA novel about a family crisis set during the legendary British heatwave of 1976. Gretta Riordan wakes on a stultifying July morning to find that her husband of forty years has gone to get the paper and vanished, cleaning out his bank account along the way. Gretta's three grown children converge on their parents' home for the first time in years: Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, with two stepdaughters who despise her and a blighted past that has driven away the younger sister she once adored; and Aoife, the youngest, now living in Manhattan, a smart, immensely resourceful young woman who has arranged her entire life to conceal a devastating secret. 

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Cover of Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer who, over the next three days, will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

Cover of Outline by Rachel Cusk

 Outline by Rachel Cusk

A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives. Beginning with the neighboring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city, the sequence of voices begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk, the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.

Cover of Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement by Ian McEwan

On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

All annotations courtesy of goodreads.com.

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