I wanted to return to the town of Elm Haven, having enjoyed my experience there in Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, so I picked up the sequel he penned to it, and dove into a but of a spooky tale.
We join Dale Stewart, from the original novel, but he’s older now, in his fifties, a university professor and a bit of an author. He’s ruined his personal life by leaving his wife, and kids for a younger woman, who in turn has now left him.
He returns to Elm Haven, to his dead friend, Duane’s house, where he plans to work on a new novel. But, he’s depressed, off his meds, and his reality is beginning to blur as he recalls his break-up, and begins to have bizarre and frightening encounters, not only with phantom dogs, and strange sounds and sensations in the house, but a group of Neo-Nazis who are less than pleased with some of the things he’s written.
A more intimate piece than Summer of Night, the true delight in the tale comes from trying to figure out what is real, what is imaginary, and what is a haunting. Simmons bluntly lays out his horrors, giving the reader and the character no choice but to simply deal with what is happening.
And while the whole thing is set in Elm Haven, as is the new novel Dale is working on, he doesn’t remember everything from the summer he’s chosen to write about (the summer of 60, as featured in Summer of Night), this tale is quieter, more a traditional ghost story. Despite that there are some nice nods to the original novel, including a certain presence in the cemetery.
I mean, yes, there are all manner of nods to the original novel, simply because of the location and characters Dale encounters, but this is very much Dale’s story. It was an interesting experience, having hung around with Dale and his friends a few short weeks ago as kids, and now seeing how he has lived his life, the choices he’s made, and his loss of youthful innocence.
In those moments, I was able to see how I myself had changed from the young boy I was.
I was glad however, that I wasn’t having the same problems as Dale was in this story. We are taken through his failed relationship, to its bitter end, even as he has odd and terrifying encounters in Duane’s house with things that shouldn’t be.
I really enjoyed this one, it was a quick read, and I loved the follow-up Simmons gave us to Elm Haven, and the way the town has changed, and how there are things that linger, and haunt us.
Reading it so quickly after Summer of Night added to my enjoyment of it, as I could still see the Elm Haven of Dale’s youth, ghosts and all (which he barely recalls). It was a very enjoyable experience, and this is a wonderful little ghost story that comes to a horrifying climax that has you questioning Dale’s own sanity even as he is menaced on all sides!
I greatly enjoyed this one, and will have to dig into another Simmons novel soon!