Life in the Haas household was anything but normal. For the four children of Marilyn, an aging actress, and Richard, a once-successful playwright, it’s more about existing than thriving. Oldest daughter Kate is forced to take over the parenting duties of Finn, the oldest son who drinks to excess daily, even as a teen; George, the sensitive gay son who most relates to their distant mother; and Amy, the young artist — and “caboose” of the family — who becomes George’s closest friend and confidante.
Alternating between each of the four children’s viewpoints with a bonus glimpse through Marilyn’s eyes, we examine life before, during and after the death of Richard, a figure who looms large in the story — despite the fact that he never physically appears in the text except through snatches of memories and, later, after passing. The children are the “fruit” of Richard’s failed life; the products of his neglect. Of the four siblings, each aches separately for a childhood they never had and for parents they never understood or trusted; these pains carry them into their turbulent adulthoods, where every sibling must make peace with the past. And maybe, along the way, learn to love — and trust — others. And each other.
Robin Antalek’s The Summer We Fell Apart was, quite simply, stunning. Books with multiple narrators typically leave me feeling detached and disjointed as a reader, unable to get close to any one particular character. But not so here, where we learn the quirks and backstories of each Haas child as we travel through time and space with them. In a story that could easily have become horrifying or worse, I never sunk into depression as I followed the kids from New York to California and back. My heart broke when theirs broke; my face creased when they smiled. So obviously so broken, Amy, George, Finn and Kate desperately needed to find somewhere to belong.
Their parents affected each of them differently, but the profound scars were lasting and obvious. Of all the stories, Finn’s probably caused me the most pain. A young man who battles addiction the entire story, I kept waiting for him to have that great epiphany and begin to heal his life. But as things became worse and worse, I really wondered if he would ever be capable of change. Finn’s chapter is the most graphic, detailing his sexual exploits and need to do anything for a drink. The time he spends with sister Kate was gut-wrenching.
And speaking of Kate — she’s definitely the character I thoroughly believed I would hate but, of course, I couldn’t. And don’t. Who could fault a woman who spends her entire adolescence cleaning up for her sad, bitter and angry teenage siblings — and then is expected to clean up their messes in adulthood, too? As much as I wanted her to become the personal savior of her siblings, how could she? Who could blame her for running away, wanting to carve out her own life and gain some control over her own life? Who could fault her the success she earned?
The Summer We Fell Apart is a carefully crafted tapestry ripe with atmosphere, symbolism and incredible imagery. A family drama in the very best sense of the description, I couldn’t put this book down. It succeeds where, for me, books like Hyatt Bass’s The Embers — a book similar in content, down to the writer father — failed: it made me care, and not just about the “right” people. About everyone. A fantastic debut novel I would highly recommend to lovers of literary fiction and those ready to delve into the hard, blackened core of a one family — and maybe emerge on the other side.
4.75 out of 5!
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours