Monday, October 07, 2019

71. Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan

Some credit to the success of Lois Duncan's books back in the day has to go her publisher and the person who did the cover illustrations.  They were always so freaky.  This one is a classic.  My six year-old daughter was drawn to it "Daddy why does she look like that on one side but looks scary in the mirror?"  To be fair, this scene doesn't actually happen in the book and even as a metaphor only loosely captures the plot and that is stretching things.  But who cares, it's freaky and makes you want to read the book.

This is not to underplay Lois Duncan's work.  She was huge back in the day and having re-read this I think she needs to get more recognition when it comes to the various works of art and cultural influences that are driving today's Stranger Things 80s nostalgia boom.  Lois Duncan books are classics of late 70s and early 80s teens on their own against a supernatural power with ineffectual unbelieving parents.  They also capture a white, residential (suburban but where there were still neighbours you could walk to) idyllic community that doesn't exist anymore today and was dying for disruption at the time (and probably was being threatened by social change already thus all the anxiety).

In Summer of Fear, Rachel is a normal 15 year-old in Albuquerque with her loving middle-class family and best friend and old neighbour friend/new boyfriend about to begin a lovely summer when the family learns that her mom's sister and her husband have died, leaving behind their only daughter.  The daughter comes to live with them and is not what she expected.  As her distrust of Julie grows, everybody else grows more and more enamoured by her and it is Rachel who starts to become the difficult outcast.

The atmosphere and the writing style never allow it to get truly dark, though the stakes are real enough.  It's tense but wasn't actually scary to me (although got close in a part or two).  I think part of the issue was that as I was reading it, I remembered it from my distant past and the surprise seemed totally obvious to me.  Maybe it wasn't so obvious back in the day or to an adolescent reader (though they usually are the most astute to these kinds of things).  It also has a fascinating subtext, though only lightly touched upon, about privilege.  The backstory here comes right out of the classic American fear of the redneck/hillbilly as Joe Bob Briggs breaks down so well in his "How Rednecks Saved Hollywood" lecture.

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