Monday, February 27, 2012


Shop Indie Bookstores

The Summer Without Men, Siri Hustvedt, Picador, 2011, 182 pp

I don't much pick up books because of their covers, but I am often seduced by a title, as with this short but smart novel by Siri Hustvedt. I had read an earlier novel of hers, What I Loved, which left me shaking with awe.

Hustvedt is able to bore right down to the emotional impact people have on each other. She is self-assured on many other topics as well: psychology, art, poetry, and as it turns out in The Summer Without Men, the inner life of teenage girls.

Mia Fredrickson is a poet, published but not particularly successful, married to a self-absorbed and successful neuroscientist. He goes all midlife crisis on her after 30 years of marriage and calls for a "pause" while he has an affair with a much younger woman.

First sentence: "Sometime after he said the word pause, I went mad and landed in the hospital." This is what I like about Hustvedt. When her characters get upset, they don't go halfway. She is diagnosed with Brief Psychotic Disorder, meaning she was only temporarily crazy, but after being released from the hospital, decides to spend the summer back in her small Minnesota hometown.

Somehow Hustvedt manages to combine a wry humor (something along the lines of Nora Ephron) with some deep psychological insight and a good dose of hard-line feminism. The mix creates a moving meditation on womanhood from the stages of budding sexuality through young motherhood to mature (sort of) woman and all the way to widows in assisted living.

Mia is no slouch and she is definitely not airy-fairy. As she sorts through emotion, the meaning of love, the pitfalls of marriage and the weaknesses of men, she made me happy to be female but even happier to be a reader.

(The Summer Without Men is available in paperback and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)


  1. I loved this book! A publisher sent it to me (though it had not been requested) and it turned out to be wonderful. I love when that happens.

    1. You must read her other novels. She is a wonder. I have read What I Loved. It is longer, darker, but the same amazing writing.