SHE CAN FORGIVE. THEY CAN’T FORGET’
The Last Days of Summer is a debut novel by Vanessa Ronan. Published by Penguin Random House UK/Penguin Ireland, it hit the shelves on 5th May 2016.
‘After ten years in the Huntsville State Penitentiary, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters. Lizzie does not know who she’s letting into her home: the brother she grew up loving or the monster he became.
Teenage Katie distrusts this strange man in their home but eleven-year-old Joanne is just intrigued by her new uncle.
Jasper says he’s all done with trouble, but in a forgotten prairie town that knows no forgiveness, it does not take long for trouble to arrive at their door…’
The Last Days of Summer is a book based in a small town in the prairie in the state of Texas. From the beginning I could feel the uncomfortable, intense heat of the prairie sun jumping off the pages.
There are four main characters in this novel and we are introduced to them gradually in the opening chapters. Lizzie is the main female. She is the sister of soon-to-be released convict Jasper Curtis. Lizzie has two young daughters, Katie & Joanne, both dealing with the arrival of their uncle in completely different ways.
Jasper Curtis – Did I like him? No. Jasper is a very violent man who on release from Huntsville Penitentiary, arrives back to his sister’s house with a sense of entitlement. There is an air of righteousness about him, an air of trouble.
Lizzie Curtis, his sister, is quite a sad character. She is very clear that her loyalty, no matter what he has done, lies with Jasper. Although not happy with his presence in the house, she is also very much a family person & Jasper is family.
Katie, is her eldest daughter. Aware of the past history of her uncle, she distrusts him completely and no longer feels safe in her environment. Katie is at an age where she wants to leave and spread her wings but she sees the return of her uncle as an impediment to that. Katie loves to be loved. She is an atypical beauty with lots of friends and an ‘important’ boyfriend. She is prepared to go to any length to keep her dreams alive.
Joanne is Lizzie’s youngest at eleven. Joanne is oblivious to the dangers of her uncle. She is unaware of his history of violence and is therefore very welcoming of Jasper. Their relationship is beautifully depicted as the novel develops. There is an innocent quality to Joanne, one that you hope will remain with her throughout. Jasper, himself, sees this also in Joanne, affectionately calling her ‘Doe-Eyes.’
On Jasper’s return the locals are not happy from the get-go. After the atrocity he carried out, they have no forgiveness in their hearts for him. Jasper is trouble and no matter what Lizzie chooses to do, the town will not & can not accept him. Lizzie becomes more of an outsider than she ever was. She is very conscious of the looks, the venomous hatred & the general lack of empathy from the community. With some great lines throughout, her feelings towards the falseness of certain members of the community is quite evident. ‘”Oh! Yes!” Mrs Gordon smiles. “Your mother was such a fine woman Elizabeth. You know, I still remember her in my prayers.” Lizzie feels her insides bristle. She’s never liked this woman. The hurtful gossip that she spreads hidden behind that saintly smile. “That’s mighty kind of you Regina, But I’d appreciate it if you’d let my mother rest in peace awhile. She must be awfully tired receiving all those prayers of yours. The way I see it, there’s more livin’ need our help than dead ‘n’ prayers just waste our breath.” The smile falls from the other woman’s face. “That’s a rather unholy perspective, Elizabeth.” …….”I ain’t had much time for faith”‘
Lizzie is a very strong character, a person who you feel was handed a very rough set of cards. Both parents are dead, her husband left her not long after Jasper’s incarceration & she struggles daily to keep food on the table. With Jasper’s return, her life takes another turn for the worse.
As I progressed through the book, I must admit to having my curiosity seriously piqued. What did Jasper do? It is only in the latter section of the book that we are finally made aware of the full extent of the horrors he inflicted. Lizzie recounts childhood memories in various parts where we see the warped, sick mind of a younger Jasper. Yet, unbelievably, she sticks by him. She seems to see something in him that is salvageable. I think that, though he may have done terrible things, Lizzie sees that ability to cause harm in all humans. “‘This is what I want in life,” he says at last. “What is?” “I want to feel human again. I want to feel close enough to normal.” “Ain’t one of us normal around here, Jasper.” A smile tickles his lips, but does not quite reach his eyes. “Wouldn’t that be funny, then, if I could be the first?”‘
There are parts of the book toward the end that I found quite disturbing. I was not expecting it to be so upsetting. Jasper does find himself in a fight for his life with locals. There is almost something gladiatorial about the way the community gathers into one unit against him. A change has settled on a small town community & it will never be the same again.
The Last Days of Summer is a psychological thriller. The suspense & the build up devoted to a particular scene is very well done, creating a very vivid image in your head. The main drawback for me, though minor, was the lack of chapters. A chapter is a feature of a book I personally like. It closes off a scene while preparing me for what is to come. When I am reading, I like a stopping point to rest my book & my mind. Without these stops, the story has no break. Just a personal quibble!!!!!
Would I recommend this book? Yes I would. It is a great debut novel & I look forward to further novels by Vanessa Ronan.
Biography of the Author:
Vanessa Ronan was born in Houston and in her 28 years has lived in Texas, Mexico, New York, Edinburgh, and Dublin, where she now lives with her Irish husband. Among other things, she has been a dancer, a PA, a barmaid, a literature student, a dance teacher, and now, a writer. Home-schooled by her literature teacher parents, Vanessa began writing as soon as she learned the alphabet. The Last Days of Summer is her first novel. (Courtesy of Penguin)