Horrifying and beautiful, Summertime is a fictionalised account of one of the most devastating natural disasters in US history.
Florida Keys, 1935. Hurricane Season.
Tens of thousands of black and white men scarred by their experiences of war in Europe return home to find themselves abandoned to destitution by the US government.
The tiny, segregated community of Heron Key is suddenly overwhelmed by broken, disturbed men with new ideas about racial equality and nothing left to lose.
Tensions flare when a black veteran is accused of committing the most heinous crime of all against a white resident’s wife.
And not far off the strongest and most intense hurricane America has ever witnessed is gaining force.
For fans of The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird, this is the story of the greatest tragedy you’ve never heard of.
Summertime is the title of the UK edition of Under a Dark Summer Sky.
I was lucky to win a free copy of Summertime from Holly at Bookaholic Confessions. I have to say that I was thrilled when my copy of Summertime arrived, I hadn’t realised that I’d won a hardback copy! I sensed this would be a good book, and in this I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, not only did I enjoy Summertime, I would say that I loved Summertime.
It is an excellent debut by Vanessa Lafaye and I would highly recommend it.
Summertime is a fictional story based upon the labour day hurricane of 1935. It is set in Heron Key in Florida during the nineteen thirties. In this fictionalised account the storm takes place after the 4th July celebrations. There is an annual beach party in which racial tensions are set to explode, like lit fireworks, but the celebratory fireworks hold back, refusing to light. The habitual fight between white and black is engrained into the very fabric of this society ravaged by a deep and destructive racial divide.
I loved the sense of place, which is conveyed so vividly in the opening paragraph: “The humid air felt like water in the lungs, like drowning.”
The characters – there are so many and yet Vanessa Lafaye details them all in a way that makes them so real, and engaging. There are so many elements to this novel, it touches upon racial tensions, an attempted murder, the far-reaching effects of abuse, even magical spells play a part!
The developing love story between Missy and Henry is so endearing. The reader senses that Henry will do anything to protect Missy, and Missy will wait for Henry forever if needs be. Missy loves the white baby boy that she cares for, and wants only to protect him from harm. Henry arrives back in Heron Key but he is not the same man who left, war has left him in a state in which : “He felt like a ghost, haunting a former life where he didn’t belong any more.” Missy has grown from a child into a strong young woman who will fight against the forces of nature to get what she wants: “She was tired of being blown around like a leaf, with no say in anything that mattered. Anger rose up her spine like a column of molten steel and her back straightened…… By God, I will not fail at this.”
The way in which Vanessa Lafaye transports you to the very eye of the storm, make this in my opinion a must read novel. The two main characters Missy and Henry are without doubt my favourites. Henry is so drawn to Heron Key, even though he knows Heron’s Keys terrible shortcomings. Henry has experienced a sense of freedom in a culture of non-discrimination in his time in the battlefields of France, but is this a country he wants to call home? Vanessa Lafaye uses a rubber band analogy to suggest how drawn he is to Heron Key: “It was like he was attached to the place by a long rubber band that was now stretched to its absolute limit.”
The war veterans are all different, some are good men, some are not, but none of them are welcomed in Heron Key. These hardened men don’t seem so tough when they encounter the force of the hurricane. It is as if the sheer force of the destructive natural elements of the hurricane are so much more fierce and terrifying than the atrocities of war. In a war, I suppose you have a sense of when the battle is over but in a hurricane, no such certainty exists, just when the winds quieten you realise that the hurricane is playing with you, it is deceiving you, readying itself to deliver its final fatal blow.
” There was a collective moan, which quickly rose to an awful, haunt-ing cry. It sent a stab of dread right through Trent’s heart. He knew that noise, had heard it before: it was the sound men make when they realise they are about to die.”
Not only can the winds get you but the rising water can too: “So this is what it feels like to die in a washing machine!”
The aftermath is devastating: “In the quiet left by the wind, he noticed the complete absence of birds. No gulls, no pelicans, no buzzards, even with the carpet of death below him.”
The carnage that the hurricane leaves in its wake is every bit as devastating and shocking as a war zone. The hurricane strips everyone bare of their possessions, their clothes, and ultimately their human dignity. Survival becomes paramount, petty quarrels, and racial hatred are stripped away for that tiny moment in time. Yet, there are always those with hatred in their hearts, who instigate fear and hatred in others, and this is demonstrated so clearly when white people ask the black folks to leave the apparent safety of the shelter when there is not enough room: “Traitorous stars shone within a circle of swirling cloud.”
The epilogue ends with the words, “Time to begin,” suggesting a new life will start, this new life won’t be without its trial and tribulations but it will be filled with a new-found sense of hope.
I tend to get so involved in books. This time I was so deeply affected by Summertime that one night I dreamt that my bed was filled with hurricane winds! I could feel myself being lifted, and buffeted on a bed of sheets, and thrown up and down in the air. Luckily my dream carried me gently up and down as if I was on a trampoline of buffeting air, but sadly in this book, and in real life many people die in hurricanes, white and black alike, the interesting and emotive point that Vanessa Lafaye makes is this: the hurricane doesn’t discriminate. There are so many poignant moments, family members choose death rather than be separated from their loved ones, mothers save their children instead of themselves. Life is such a precious treasure, why waste it by hating other people just because they’re different?
It couldn’t be less than 5 stars.
Holly’s wordpress: https://bookaholicconfessions.wordpress.com/
Author Vanessa Lafaye wordpress site: https://vanessalafaye.wordpress.com/
Taken from the authors notes – There are fifteen pages detailing the real hurricane on the Keys History Website and the final page, page fifteen has a link at the bottom of the post to a fascinating video of some of the survivors:
Have you read Summertime? Do leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you.
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx