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"And who among us would deny Jane Austen her happy endings or insist that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne should not get back together at the end of The Awful Truth? There are tragedies and there are comedies, aren't there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women, if you ask me. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right mo "And who among us would deny Jane Austen her happy endings or insist that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne should not get back together at the end of The Awful Truth? There are tragedies and there are comedies, aren't there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women, if you ask me. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right moment."   Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragicomic poet narrator of The Summer Without Men, has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mia’s husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a “pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mia’s release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old people’s home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her—her mother and her close friends,“the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband—and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own. From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes a provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.


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"And who among us would deny Jane Austen her happy endings or insist that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne should not get back together at the end of The Awful Truth? There are tragedies and there are comedies, aren't there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women, if you ask me. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right mo "And who among us would deny Jane Austen her happy endings or insist that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne should not get back together at the end of The Awful Truth? There are tragedies and there are comedies, aren't there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women, if you ask me. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right moment."   Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragicomic poet narrator of The Summer Without Men, has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mia’s husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a “pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mia’s release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old people’s home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her—her mother and her close friends,“the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband—and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own. From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes a provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.

30 review for The Summer Without Men

  1. 5 out of 5

    Oriana

    My latest for CCLaP! I will admit that I can be very smug. I've been obsessively immersed in books for so long now that I tend to have opinions on everything literary, founded or un-. So of course I had an opinion about Siri Hustvedt, wife of Paul Auster, posed kind of ridiculously in her author photo, with her black turtleneck and piercing stare, writer of--what? I'm not sure what I thought she wrote, mainstream-ish fiction for smart moms, maybe? Stuff like The Time Traveler's Wife or The Memory My latest for CCLaP! I will admit that I can be very smug. I've been obsessively immersed in books for so long now that I tend to have opinions on everything literary, founded or un-. So of course I had an opinion about Siri Hustvedt, wife of Paul Auster, posed kind of ridiculously in her author photo, with her black turtleneck and piercing stare, writer of--what? I'm not sure what I thought she wrote, mainstream-ish fiction for smart moms, maybe? Stuff like The Time Traveler's Wife or The Memory Keeper's Daughter or anything by Jodi Picoult, where it's all plangent and emotional but in a kind of self-absorbed way, and has meaty characters but predictable plots full of poignancy and exquisite misery. Or something. I haven't read those other books either, so who knows, I could be wrong about them too. Anyway, I'd been sure that the books Siri wrote were not ones I'd necessarily scorn, but also not anything I was in a hurry to pick up. And I will further admit that I often let my preconceptions become self-fulfilling prophesies. So when I started this book and realized it was going to be about a bunch of girls--a middle-aged cuckoldee, a handful of widows in an old-folks' home, a passel of tweens in a poetry class, a young mother and her voluble, bewigged toddler--I wasn't really thrilled. Those are obvious choices of people to write about, over-tilled ground, seemingly automatically ready to go off into clichéd, sentimental territory, where everyone teaches each other valuable life lessons by sharing pain and going through trauma and coming out stronger on the other side. And it's true, in some ways that's what happened. But oh, Siri charmed me. She wooed me and impressed me and dragged me over to her side. She's super smart, but subtle about it, not cloying or show-offy like the hipster kids I so adore (Marisha Pessl, Benjamin Kunkel, et al.). She weaves the many narratives deftly, with a really mature and intentional sense of pacing. Her language is lovely. She spatters the narrative with all kinds of musings--on psychology, philosophy, physiology, history, literature--which are all actually relevant, if not to the actual plot, than to the mind of the narrator, whose thoughts we spend the whole novel navigating. Lots of the book is in fact about other books--there are book club meetings and poetry classes and quite a lot of reading and musing on reading. She also does this cool thing where she subverts her own use of bad clichés by having the narrator then actually picture the cliché to diffuse it, which I surprisingly really loved. And she's got some good meta-ness too, some breaking of the fourth wall and earnestly addressing the reader, taking us by the hand or blindfolding us or otherwise revealing her own machinations before she performs them, thus further distancing her from the sentimental, heavily plotted pabulum that I'd been afraid I was in for. I'm not saying the book was without flaws. Certainly not all the characters are as full as they could be--the seven tweens were virtually indistinguishable to me, even after repeated mentions of this or that trait assigned to one or the other--but that's not unfitting for the plot arc they were involved in, which was one of shifting narratives, fluid identities, tweenagerhood as a many-headed beast rather than a selection of individuals. And the old ladies were seemingly ranked in order of importance to the narrator, and assigned characterizations accordingly--but isn't that a bit like life? You don't know everything about all your mom's friends; you know a few interesting things about the ones you find interesting. And then also she did this weird amateur thing (which I can't believe her publisher let her get away with, actually) where instead of using italics for emphasis she used ALL CAPS, like some shouting internet commenter, which was totally bizarre and made me cringe every time and probably wouldn't bother people who aren't copyeditors but still is just wrong. But on the whole, this was a really engaging book, very smart, very full. I'm trying to say that I was wrong, okay? I'm allowing myself to loosen my grip on a deeply held conviction and admit fault. Aren't you proud of me? Just don't expect me to pick up Lovely Bones anytime soon.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    3.5 stars Single moments: those moments you're having a conversation with someone and you get lost within the jumble of words because your mind wraps itself around only a few phrases, gingerly separating them from the rest. Suddenly, these words hang in moments around you, sticking to your tongue like wet cotton candy, enfolding into word-clouds. Forget the conversation; you only hear those succulent words as they nourish your brain's appetite. While reading this book, I had quite a few of these 3.5 stars Single moments: those moments you're having a conversation with someone and you get lost within the jumble of words because your mind wraps itself around only a few phrases, gingerly separating them from the rest. Suddenly, these words hang in moments around you, sticking to your tongue like wet cotton candy, enfolding into word-clouds. Forget the conversation; you only hear those succulent words as they nourish your brain's appetite. While reading this book, I had quite a few of these single, concentrated moments when I wanted to disappear into the syntactical universe of some word orderings. And then a conversational moment, a differently-styled narration, enters and takes my word-cloud away. Then again, I guess this is what happens when a fifty-something-year old woman is abandoned by a husband who wants a "pause." This is what happens when this woman has had a brother-in-law who is mentally ill and with whom she shares oneness. This is what happens when a woman has to enter a mental ward, when she sees the women around her falter and die, when she has to face old age in its wrinkled eye, and when she goes from being a professor at a reputable university like Columbia, to teaching poetry to high school teenagers who bully each other and have boy problems (normal teenage baggage, I guess). Single moments are those moments you see her "pause" to consider life, her life. Hustevedt is a talented writer who writes with brevity, voice, and wit. If you can follow the many parallel narratives taking place within a single first-person point of view, you will have a blast. If not, you will be a bit disappointed. Out of the many passages I enjoyed insufflating, if I were to pinpoint my single moment, it would be this one: "Some of us are fated to live in a box from which there is only temporary release. We of the damned-up spirits, of the thwarted feelings, of the blocked hearts, and the pent-up thoughts, we who long to blast out, flood forth in a torrent of rage or joy or even madness, but there is nowhere for us to go, nowhere in the world because no one will have us as we are, and there is nothing to do except to embrace the secret pleasures of our sublimations, the arc of a sentence, the kiss of a rhyme, the image that forms on paper or canvas, the inner cantata, the cloistered embroidery, the dark and dreaming needlepoint from hell or heaven or purgatory of none of those three, but there must be some sound and fury from us, some clashing cymbals in the void. Who would deny us the mere pantomime of frenzy?"

  3. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    When Mia's husband Boris asks for a pause from their 30 year marriage to go frolicking with a French coworker, Mia ups and leaves for her home town to spend the summer there while trying to figure things out. In my first Hustvedt novel I was charmed, entertained and exposed to quite a lot of philosophy, feminism and neuroscience. It was a successful mix. To occupy herself throughout the summer, Mia teaches a poetry workshop for a handful of local girls. She also visits her mother who lives in an When Mia's husband Boris asks for a pause from their 30 year marriage to go frolicking with a French coworker, Mia ups and leaves for her home town to spend the summer there while trying to figure things out. In my first Hustvedt novel I was charmed, entertained and exposed to quite a lot of philosophy, feminism and neuroscience. It was a successful mix. To occupy herself throughout the summer, Mia teaches a poetry workshop for a handful of local girls. She also visits her mother who lives in an apartment building for senior citizens, and meets her mother's friends. The descriptions of old age in this book is both raw and touching. It was very well done and something that gives the book a dept and strength of narrative that makes it really good. Mia also gets to know her next door neighbor - a young mother struggling to care for a toddler (Flora) and a baby (Simon) while her husband is working. And there we have it. An all female cast of characters (except baby Simon), representing all ages, from toddler to elderly. Maleness is not completely absent, though. Boris is often on Mia's mind (and there are a few other males circling the outskirts of the story). When he first announced he wanted a pause she had a mental breakdown, later she's filled with anger and criticism towards him, and later still she seems to be thoughtful and uncertain about what she feels and wants. Who are we really, underneath the roles of mother, wife, crone? And who do we want to be, if we could throw away those roles? This book is more about identity and going through different phases of life than just bashing away at male dominance - although feminism is also an important theme throughout. In fact, Hustvedt's analysis of injustice has a humor, colorfulness and preciseness to it that reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood. Hustvedt doesn't tell a strictly chronological story. She jumps back and forth quite a lot. We get to see glimpses of Mia's everyday life - babysitting, teaching, visiting her mother - interspersed with paragraphs or sometimes pages of gender theory, a bit of neuroscience, history and some of Mia's memories. She is trying to find herself anew. To find the pre-Boris Mia, and to figure out if she wants him back or if she is happier without him. What I found the most fascinating about this book is that it tells a small handful of stories we've all heard before. Clichés. The teenagers that scheme and bully. The young mother struggling alone with her kids while her husband is working. The deceived, middle aged wife. But clichés are clichés for a reason - they do happen very often. And to the people they happen to, it's a very personal and unique (and painful) experience. Hustvedt manages, through Mia, to convey both the individual experience and to see the bigger pattern. She sees the pain of the individual that goes through it for the first time, and the cultural structures that ensures that this happens to so many people - over and over again. And her observations are always insightful.

  4. 5 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    The front cover of the advanced reader's copy I hold in my hand depicts a woman, dynamically in flight, yet with an image of dismemberment, as the title takes the place of the woman's trunk. Hustvedt is no stranger to dismemberment, both in fiction and in life. If you peer into her history with novelist husband, Paul Auster, you will note that she has a stepson with a troubled past that features dismemberment, although once removed. In THE BLINDFOLD, the main character, Iris (Siri spelled backwa The front cover of the advanced reader's copy I hold in my hand depicts a woman, dynamically in flight, yet with an image of dismemberment, as the title takes the place of the woman's trunk. Hustvedt is no stranger to dismemberment, both in fiction and in life. If you peer into her history with novelist husband, Paul Auster, you will note that she has a stepson with a troubled past that features dismemberment, although once removed. In THE BLINDFOLD, the main character, Iris (Siri spelled backwards) examines the detritus of a murdered woman's life, including a severed finger in a box. In WHAT I LOVED, Gile's art is centered on dismembered bodies. In this novel, dismemberment is often metaphorical, such as the protagonist's separation from her sanity. Mia is an educated woman, with a PhD in comparative literature, married to boorish Boris, a neuroscientist. She had a mental breakdown and spent time in the "loony bin." Now, Boris wants a "pause" in their thirty-year marriage so that he can have an affair with a young French colleague. There are scenes from the book that create an image of bodily separation and/or disintegration. "After crumbling to bits, I had lost that brisk confidence in the wheels of my own mind..." When Mia first meets the child next door, she is only partly visible, "her short, naked legs" and then, later, atop the dollhouse, her wigged-top Harpo Marx head comes into view. Later, when describing the pubescent pupils she is teaching in her summer poetry class (all girls), she describes one who "constantly adjusted her arms and legs as if they were alien limbs." Hustvedt's recurring themes of exile, separation, identity, and the dislocation and severing of the self is examined in her latest novel. The premise is Mia's personal journey to reconstitute herself and to emerge whole, individual, changed. Mia escapes from Brooklyn to the provincial Minnesota town of her childhood to be nearer her mother. Here she becomes part of her mother's octogenarian group of friends, who she calls "The Five Swans." These aging, sheltered, debilitated women are surprisingly stout and vigorous in ways that both endear and enlighten Mia. "...the Five shared a mental toughness and autonomy that gave them a veneer of enviable freedom." And, that, dear reader, is something to discover for yourself. Dear reader? That is how Mia addresses us, and her notebook detailing her former sexual adventures, (of her life before she met Boris, the "rat-man."). She visits her low-key therapist once a week, keeps a close but distant correspondence with her actress daughter, Daisy, and indulges in emails with a "Mr. Nobody," a derisive and anonymous somebody that contacted her online. The structure of the novel is where this story had slender success with me. She didn't take on a new theme--middle-aged woman is dumped by husband, suffers a breakdown, works to reconstitute self--so it is necessary that she engage the reader with a fresh approach. The approach she utilized often felt forced, flat, or strained. Despite the flying woman on the cover, there was meager liftoff inside the pages. Her inclusion of art, poetry, psychology, and science, a technique she has used with impeccable agency in the past, felt dispatched and rhetorical. The "Dear Reader" was coy and distracting. The structure was too much like a blog, which made it candied instead of candid. Hustvedt has been one of my favorite writers for several years. I have been swept up in her ability to bend it like Beckett, deliver like DeLillo, and ruminate with the cerebral province and style. In fact, she avoided the pitfalls of stylistic prose, until this novel. It is aiming to be whimsical, charming, and mordant. It comes off as pointedly quaint and capricious, and doesn't read like the mature Hustvedt I am used to reading. Regardless of the scholarly inclusions, it seemed superficial. It was lazy writing propped up with obscure quotes she decanted coquettishly. Hustvedt capitalized (with upper case) too many words/passages, as if she were afraid we wouldn't get the nuance ourselves. It made those passages clunky and amateurish. Additionally, she employed too many clichés and worn-out phrases. And if you want to watch adolescent girls impugn each other, read CAT'S EYE, a much more thorough and chilling portrait. I realize that Hustvedt was just gazing gauzily through these many devices, but I felt like she was telling me something, rather than taking me on a journey. If I had never read this author before, I may have assigned three stars, for the few times I was delighted with the story. One of the Swans created some astonishing embroideries, and Hustvedt's sensitivity and insight into aging is often spot-on. However, her psychotic break was canned and almost embarrassing in its effort to seem authentic. Mia's odyssey of change was stale and discharged. I am disappointed in this corny, ponderously whimsical novel by a usually fierce and imaginative author.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    4 and 1/2 stars This is a 'mature' novel that's very aware of itself as being a novel, though the fictional narrator is writing her own story. It's also both more and less than a novel, with more discourses than plot (which the narrator herself points out more than halfway through) and, going against what we've been taught about fiction, it's more telling than showing -- and it all works. As Francine Prose writes in Reading Like a Writer (using an an Alice Munro story as an example) : "There are 4 and 1/2 stars This is a 'mature' novel that's very aware of itself as being a novel, though the fictional narrator is writing her own story. It's also both more and less than a novel, with more discourses than plot (which the narrator herself points out more than halfway through) and, going against what we've been taught about fiction, it's more telling than showing -- and it all works. As Francine Prose writes in Reading Like a Writer (using an an Alice Munro story as an example) : "There are many occasions in literature in which telling is far more effective than showing." Such is the case with this novel. At first I wondered at the wisdom of a cover and title that seems almost chick-lit-ish, but now I'm thinking it's intentional, though it's far, far from what people think of as 'chick-lit.' Perhaps the author means to turn its sometime-conventions (a wandering husband, a book group (though it's of older women) and a poetry workshop (though of pubescent girls) on its head, while implying (very, very subtly) that it can be art, though it's considered 'narrow' by critics, just as Jane Austen was. And while she makes a case for 'narrow' art (really a case for all kinds of art), this slim novel is much more than narrow, impressively encompassing quite a lot.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    Polymathic chicklit with a PhD: something I'd been hoping to find for ten years. Some time ago I had concluded it just didn't get published as there wasn't enough of an audience. I'd never read Siri Hustvedt before, assuming that her books were yet more run-of-the-mill English-language literary fiction. (The rest of her work does still sound that way to me, TBH.) But a few weeks ago I idly clicked on Amazon reviews for this book, and among the more negative ones, it was criticised by chicklit re Polymathic chicklit with a PhD: something I'd been hoping to find for ten years. Some time ago I had concluded it just didn't get published as there wasn't enough of an audience. I'd never read Siri Hustvedt before, assuming that her books were yet more run-of-the-mill English-language literary fiction. (The rest of her work does still sound that way to me, TBH.) But a few weeks ago I idly clicked on Amazon reviews for this book, and among the more negative ones, it was criticised by chicklit readers for being too pretentious, and by literary readers for being too superficial. And also, how was it a Summer Without Men if she quoted male writers and philosophers all the time? This tale of Mia, an academic and poet on a break from her marriage sounded very promising. We have such chicklit cliches such as a younger, French Other Woman; going back to a former home-town after a relationship breakup; one-sided ranting about the failings of the errant man; a group of schoolgirls who remind the protagonist of her younger days; a book group of elderly ladies reading Jane Austen; characters who - whilst not noted for their wealth - never worry about money. Alongside such things, standard chicklit often has bright characters who are denoted by brief references to their study or work and the use of a couple of longer words in conversation - but if you'd like to know more about that side of them, you're inevitably disappointed. Not here. Reflections on the ideas of philosophers and poets (and not just the best-known ones) form substantial parts of Mia's thoughts; we have a page-long ponder of affective neuroscience; an obscure set of Goya prints form an apt backdrop to a scene involving bitchy preteens; punning references to the linguistic turn; and the ridiculously hip occurrence of some subversive vintage embroidery... I could go on. I like it when a book gives me a few things I don't know, to look up, but not so many that this interrupts the flow of the story, and this was perfect on that count. Mia feels very deeply and thinks & knows very deeply too. If she were a real person I would want to be friends with her. I only had two disappointments with this book. One: it doesn't have chapters. Two: the lack of references to psychology other than Freud, and that Mia didn't seek to tie up some of the neuroscience musings with her own experiences of a brief breakdown and recovery, or the past aspects of her relationship. Some attachment theory, for instance, would have worked perfectly. I recall a couple of other reviewers saying there was too much self-analysis in this book; I would have liked more, if the narrator accompanied it with reference and theory, as she does so well in some other subject areas. I loved this book, but I hesitate to give it five stars - at least on here - to stand in my list alongside the likes of Kavalier and Clay and Middlemarch; yet its moments of glaring cliche, alongside its erudition, are what made it work so very well for me as comfort reading.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This was a slightly lesser Hustvedt for once, but still it is worth reading. As the title suggests, relationships between men and women play a central role in this novel, but the men are not the main characters, they are literally absent. It’s Mia Fredericksen that is the supposed writer of these memories and musings. She’s a 55-year-old professor of literature, suddenly left by her husband for a young chick, after 30 years of marriage, and she has a hard time coming to terms with that trauma. A This was a slightly lesser Hustvedt for once, but still it is worth reading. As the title suggests, relationships between men and women play a central role in this novel, but the men are not the main characters, they are literally absent. It’s Mia Fredericksen that is the supposed writer of these memories and musings. She’s a 55-year-old professor of literature, suddenly left by her husband for a young chick, after 30 years of marriage, and she has a hard time coming to terms with that trauma. After a collapse and a period in psychiatry she returns to her hometown in Minnesota, in the circle of elder widows around her mother, who – of course – also have had their experiences with men. And to pass the time, she temporally teaches a group of teenage girls, in which she recognizes her own pubertal struggles. Both circles (old and young) and a few side intrigues will eventually bring Mia to a form of purification. Mia muses a lot about the male-female differences (or the lack of it) and about her own identity, but she regularly adds many other themes: the horrendous fate of getting older; the difficult social position of adolescents who are a bit 'different'; the subversive power of eroticism; normality and insanity in women in the transition etc. All interesting psychological themes, indeed, as in Hustvedt's previous novels, but this time it resonated less with me (maybe because I’m a man?). I suspect that this is rather due to the composition: the hesitant nature of Mia’s search for a new balance is reflected in a fickle succession of events, intrigues and styles, which are not so captivating as a whole. In general, this book goes less deep and is much less loaded than the previous ones. But do not worry, Siri Hustvedt still remains one of the best contemporary writers! (2.5 stars)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ing

    I started this book with the feeling that I would enjoy it a lot. I didn't. It's not a bad novel and I can certainly see how many people enjoy it, but the problem for me was that the characters felt like they weren't fleshed out enough. I didn't get a connection to Mia as the main character. I thought the widows has potential to be interesting, but too little attention was paid to them to make me truly connect. I thought that the young girls in the poetry class were the ones that were characteri I started this book with the feeling that I would enjoy it a lot. I didn't. It's not a bad novel and I can certainly see how many people enjoy it, but the problem for me was that the characters felt like they weren't fleshed out enough. I didn't get a connection to Mia as the main character. I thought the widows has potential to be interesting, but too little attention was paid to them to make me truly connect. I thought that the young girls in the poetry class were the ones that were characterised the best and I would've liked to see even more of that. Heck, if the novel had been about the girls taking a poetry class and their teacher, I probably would have loved this novel. But as it stands, it seems kind of directionless. Neither here nor there, really. It brings in too many people without giving us enough of them to truly connect. The neighbours, for example, are included in the story, but not nearly enough for me to care about what happens to them. Frankly, they could probably have been removed and I wouldn't bat an eye. And, I don't know. The most telling thing for me is that I found myself wanting a novel about the poetry class, maybe exploring the girls' lives and then also Mia's background as the teacher, and I wanted this novel more than the novel I was reading.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    I probably never would have read this if it hadn't been for the other Siri Hustvedt books I've read, What I Loved and The Sorrows of an American. I've got to admit that the title and premise didn't really appeal to me, sounding as they do like highbrow chick-lit. The basic outline of the story is this: Mia, a poet in her fifties, has a nervous breakdown when her scientist husband tells her he wants a 'pause' in their marriage in order for him to start an affair with a younger colleague. After re I probably never would have read this if it hadn't been for the other Siri Hustvedt books I've read, What I Loved and The Sorrows of an American. I've got to admit that the title and premise didn't really appeal to me, sounding as they do like highbrow chick-lit. The basic outline of the story is this: Mia, a poet in her fifties, has a nervous breakdown when her scientist husband tells her he wants a 'pause' in their marriage in order for him to start an affair with a younger colleague. After recovering, she moves to the town she grew up in to be close to her elderly mother and teach a poetry class to a group of 12- and 13-year-old girls, and she also befriends her next-door neighbours, a young couple with two children. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought this sounded like a rather saccharine affair. (While reading it, I did often wonder how many readers had picked it up expecting something fluffy and been baffled by the frequent discussion of philosophy, literature and madness it contains.) But having loved the quality of Hustvedt's writing so much, particularly in the brilliant What I Loved, I was pretty sure I would enjoy it nevertheless. This is a moving, deliberately sentimental story, with more wry humour than its predecessors, and a very individual narrator. Mia seems incredibly real - she isn't afraid to show her anger (there's a lot of capitalisation, such as you might find in a personal diary, which made me realise how infrequently you see this in fiction), her bitterness at her husband deserting her after she has played such an important role in his career, her jealousy of 'the Pause', her real feelings about the young girls she teaches (she's often critical of them and their work, at one point even branding one of the girls 'moronic'). Alongside Mia's own story, subplots emerge - her neighbour Lola's husband, Pete, appears worryingly volatile and angry; one of her students, Alice, is the target of cruel bullying by the other girls; Mia herself receives mysterious emails from a 'Mr. Nobody', which begin as childish abuse but eventually turn into intelligent discourse. The Summer Without Men is much shorter than Hustvedt's previous novels and feels very much as if it's intended to be read in one sitting; there are no chapters, and Mia often lapses into stream-of-consciousness prose. She breaks the narrative to address the reader directly, digresses into ruminations on various philosophical theories and literary techniques, changes the way she describes what's happening (sometimes it's a traditional first-person 'here's what happened' story with dialogue and so on, at other times Mia merely sketches a brief outline of events, and occasionally she jumps into the future or summons up an old memory in the middle of whatever's happening in the here and now). It sometimes feels like a strange mixture, and I can understand how some readers might be put off by parts of it, such as Mia's occasional, and very frank, references to sex and sexuality. Mia isn't always likeable, but personally I think this is intentional; her sometimes pretentious tone and tendency to hysteria are part of what makes the character feel like a real person. My main problem with the narrative was differentiating the groups of characters, particularly the teenage girls. It's not that I don't think Hustvedt is capable of developing their characters, it's just that the brevity of the book doesn't really allow it. I thought this was a perfectly formed little story (I was a bit disappointed by the ending, but I expected and understood it) and Mia was a fantastic character, but altogether it lacked substance compared to Hustvedt's other novels. It's difficult to imagine what I'd have made of it if I hadn't read anything by the author before, and I'm glad I didn't come to this book first because I think my reaction might have been more negative. I don't think anyone reading this should expect it all to be neatly wrapped up at the end - it's as though you're observing a slice of real life, so not everything gets resolved; (view spoiler)[we never discover who 'Mr. Nobody' is and, although Lola receives an almost miraculous financial windfall, the question of how stable her relationship with Pete really is remains. (hide spoiler)] There's a lot to enjoy in this book, and it is certainly lighter and wittier than Hustvedt's other novels, but I would still recommend What I Loved first.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Thirty years on, poet Mia Fredricksen’s husband Boris asks her for a pause in their marriage so he can explore his feelings for his young French lab assistant. First things first: Mia goes crazy and ends up in a mental hospital for a short time. But then she sucks it up and goes back to her Minnesota hometown to teach poetry writing to teen girls for a summer, getting sucked into a bullying drama. She also makes friends with her neighbors and her mother’s cadre of old ladies – I especially loved Thirty years on, poet Mia Fredricksen’s husband Boris asks her for a pause in their marriage so he can explore his feelings for his young French lab assistant. First things first: Mia goes crazy and ends up in a mental hospital for a short time. But then she sucks it up and goes back to her Minnesota hometown to teach poetry writing to teen girls for a summer, getting sucked into a bullying drama. She also makes friends with her neighbors and her mother’s cadre of old ladies – I especially loved Abigail and her habit of adding secret silly, disturbing or sexual scenes to her embroidery. This is a capable if not groundbreaking story of the shifts that happen in a long marriage and the strange things we all do as we face down the possibility of death. There are also some wry comments about the unappreciated talents of the female artist. However, compared to the other two novels I’ve read from Hustvedt, this seemed thin and a little bit feeble. Very much a minor achievement, but a quick and enjoyable enough summer read. Favorite lines: “Thirty years is a long time, and a marriage acquires an ingrown, almost incestuous quality, with complex rhythms of feeling, dialogue, and associations.” “If a man opens a novel, he likes to have a masculine name on the cover; it’s reassuring somehow. You never know what might happen to that external genitalia if you immerse yourself in imaginary doings concocted by someone with the goods on the inside.” “After all, we, none of us, can ever untangle the knot of fictions that make up that wobbly thing we call a self.” “We all smell of mortality, and we can’t wash it off.”

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joan Winnek

    I loved this book as much as all the other books by Siri Hustvedt I've read, and didn't really find the ending all that abrupt, as I've known situations like this in life. The narrator returns to her home town for a summer as a kind of retreat, and engages herself with her mother and her four friends in Rolling Meadows East, and with a group of seven pubescent girls in a poetry class she teaches, and with her next-door neighbor and her two children. The comparisons of the various stages of life I loved this book as much as all the other books by Siri Hustvedt I've read, and didn't really find the ending all that abrupt, as I've known situations like this in life. The narrator returns to her home town for a summer as a kind of retreat, and engages herself with her mother and her four friends in Rolling Meadows East, and with a group of seven pubescent girls in a poetry class she teaches, and with her next-door neighbor and her two children. The comparisons of the various stages of life are implicit and wonderful. Throughout she makes rather oblique references to her reading. I needed Wikipedia to figure out that she is reading (for the sixth time) Repetition, by Kierkegaard, whom she sometimes refers to as the Danish philosopher. There are a number of other barely mentioned references to psychologists, poets, and other thinkers. Both tender descriptions and a fine sense of irony. No wonder readers think SH's novels are autobiographical (this one isn't): the inner and outer life of her narrator is deeply portrayed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Deea

    (The better loooking version of this review on my blog: http://elephantsonclouds.blogspot.com...) Absences that can be felt. Storms that can mirror the rage inside the psyche of a main character after going through a mental breakdown when, after 30 years of marriage, her husband decides he wants a break. The break is French “with limp but shiny brown hair”. Small things, objects that can “come to signify a whole world of feeling”. The unspoken which determines and directs reactions. Power that ca (The better loooking version of this review on my blog: http://elephantsonclouds.blogspot.com...) Absences that can be felt. Storms that can mirror the rage inside the psyche of a main character after going through a mental breakdown when, after 30 years of marriage, her husband decides he wants a break. The break is French “with limp but shiny brown hair”. Small things, objects that can “come to signify a whole world of feeling”. The unspoken which determines and directs reactions. Power that can be discovered in silences. Nothing that does not speak of real life. Siri Hustvedt’s prose in this book has a unique touch of authenticity. It speaks of real life with gusto. After spending so many years with a person, a mental overlap occurs and separation means untangling mingled memories. It becomes hard to see where one person’s memory ends and the other’s begins. ”Shorn of intimacy and seen from a considerable distance, we are all comic characters, farcical buffoons who bumble through our lives, making fine messes as we go, but when you get close, the ridiculous quickly fades into the sordid or the tragic or the merely sad.” Over the summer, Mia, the main character, goes back to her native town. Away from Boris, her husband who is having a pause, she teaches a class of poetry and rediscovers herself and is a witness of human fragility in other people, in her students. She discovers that deep down we all are in a constant quest to achieve power and admiration and we can even become bullies if misdirected. She teaches her students to try to put themselves in the skins of others. She makes friends. She dreams. She grieves. She tries to understand. “We must all allow ourselves the fantasy of projection from time to time, a chance to clothe ourselves in the imaginary gowns and tails of what has never been and never will be. This gives some polish to our tarnished lives, and sometimes we may choose one dream over another, and in the choosing find some respite from ordinary sadness. After all, we, none of us, can ever untangle the knot of fictions that make up that wobbly thing we call a self.” This summer changes her. But ”can we change and stay the same?” There are “stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. The fictive is an enormous territory, it turns out, its boundaries vague, and there is little certainty about where is begins and ends.” If seen from afar, our tragical stories can seem amusing. They can even seem amusing to ourselves when we narrate them after a considerable amount of time has passed. But while we go through them, they are just tragedies affecting our lives. It’s all a matter of perspective. And of whom the narrator of the story is. And then “there are tragedies and there are comedies, aren’t there? And they are often more the same than different, rather like men and women[…]. A comedy depends on stopping the story at exactly the right moment.”

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Firstly, I should note that a book called "The Summer Without Men" and a cover image of a woman with outstretched arms already seems like a noxious cliché. But if you think this is going to be a story of women affirming each other's womanliness and so forth in a pastoral setting or some such thing, think again. Rather, I got a beautifully vicious, snarky novel by one of America's finest living writers. People are shitty. Old people are shitty, young people are shitty, men are shitty, women are sh Firstly, I should note that a book called "The Summer Without Men" and a cover image of a woman with outstretched arms already seems like a noxious cliché. But if you think this is going to be a story of women affirming each other's womanliness and so forth in a pastoral setting or some such thing, think again. Rather, I got a beautifully vicious, snarky novel by one of America's finest living writers. People are shitty. Old people are shitty, young people are shitty, men are shitty, women are shitty, and 12 year old girls might as well be little Eva Brauns. Mixed in with lots of anger and confusion and general human dysfunction, Madame Hustvedt has the courage to weave in extended feminist rants, epistemology, neuroscience, references to gloomy continental European literature and philosophy, and other potential turn-offs. Wholehearted approval, all around.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Vio

    So, my first Siri H. Still zero on the Paul A. front, I have accumulated a serious number of books by him and have no idea which one will be the first. Yeah, problems. It was sort of a pleasant book, although I cannot say if I'm going to remember much of it in the future. I don't mean to say it wasn't memorable, but time will say. There are aspects I liked a lot, there are also some which kind of annoyed me - I am not the biggest fan of theoretical writing, poetry and such (??), but although I th So, my first Siri H. Still zero on the Paul A. front, I have accumulated a serious number of books by him and have no idea which one will be the first. Yeah, problems. It was sort of a pleasant book, although I cannot say if I'm going to remember much of it in the future. I don't mean to say it wasn't memorable, but time will say. There are aspects I liked a lot, there are also some which kind of annoyed me - I am not the biggest fan of theoretical writing, poetry and such (??), but although I think I like very much when an author *materializes* inside of the book, I wasn't extremely pleased by this technique in this particular book. I cannot really say why and I'm going to say maybe it was the translation (not that the translation was bad!!!), that I couldn't get the *right* tone in which these *materializations* occured. Well. I did enjoy a lot the prosa, the stories around the older ladies, but also the young group of girls coming to the poetry course. I think Siri Hustvedt can write almost tangibly (I am almost sure I will have no idea what I meant by this soon enough) and this aspect I liked a lot. I still have a bunch of her books as well, so there's certainly more to be discovered in her writing/s. PS More like 3,5*.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karen Leopoldina

    Predictably, given Hustvedt's stature in the literary community, this novel has garnered extremely favourable reviews. Unfortunately, the novel itself does not live up to the hyperbole. The work of some authors you just really want to like. For me, Hustvedt is one of these. She can write well, she occasionally takes 'risks' (or what seem like them), and she is erudite and self-effacing in person (ok, i heard her read and talk once, and i was swooning). The narrator of this novel, Mia Frederickson Predictably, given Hustvedt's stature in the literary community, this novel has garnered extremely favourable reviews. Unfortunately, the novel itself does not live up to the hyperbole. The work of some authors you just really want to like. For me, Hustvedt is one of these. She can write well, she occasionally takes 'risks' (or what seem like them), and she is erudite and self-effacing in person (ok, i heard her read and talk once, and i was swooning). The narrator of this novel, Mia Frederickson, is an award-winning poet and successful academic who tumbles into a temporary madness when her neuroscientist husband Boris surprises her with his request for a marital pause. The pause, of course, "was French with limp but shiny brown hair" and "significant breasts that were real." The novel starts well with an emotionally raw writing style – laced with a bitter humour – that seemingly holds no punches. The immediacy of the writing directly engages the reader but somehow it just doesn't hold together and my attention pretty quickly began to wander and interest wane. To recover from her psychological meltdown, the narrator decamps to the country to live near her mother and take a poetry class for adolescent girls. And so begins her 'summer without men'. The novel is peopled with a variety of girls and women who all rather obviously represent various aspects of contemporary female experience. Yet increasingly, the characters she encounters and what we learn about their lives seems increasingly contrived and artificial. There are some great scenes and moments of writing – particularly when dealing with women and ageing – but they are not enough to sustain the novel. For me the biggest problem of this novel was that the privileged life of the narrator remains unexamined and unacknowledged. The choices available to her as a white, middle-class, successfully employed professional are just not available to the majority of women who find themselves in Mia's predicament. Hustvedt has chosen to write this novel in first person which, while imbuing the novel with immediacy, also limits the reader's access to other points of view. If the book had been either written in third person, or if other characters' perspectives had been included (Boris, the errant husband could have been interesting or his new girlfriend etc), then there is a potential for drawing attention to unreliability of all first-person narrations and perhaps working to undercut the 'precious' tone of the book. Instead, we are submitted to Mia's endless digressions about her life, her marriage, her opinions which increasingly distanced me as a reader. Hustvedt just tries too hard, and many of the scenes become almost 'set pieces' to illustrate some other aspect of contemporary womanhood. The most engaging character in the novel for me is the four year old daughter of her new neighbour Lola. The writing describing her interactions with both the child (and often, her mother) were invariably warm and fresh, with none of the self-conscious archness that marred other scenes. While ultimately i was disappointed with the novel i did enjoy Hustvedt's playing with form and her use of a variety of writing styles: incorporating poetry (sometimes bad), drawings, emails etc. But did this make me 'care' about the narrator and her travails? Unfortunately, not a jot.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

    "we are all dying one by one" *warning weird seemingly irrelevant review ahead, but it seemed relevant at the time* A long time ago I was a child. Okay not that long ago. I was a weird child, who grew into a weird adult. But back when I was a child once my aunt showed me my IEP. For those of you who didn't spend any time in the special ed room an IEP is an education plan that, well it says what the special ed department intends to do about your particular annoyingness and what they think caused it "we are all dying one by one" *warning weird seemingly irrelevant review ahead, but it seemed relevant at the time* A long time ago I was a child. Okay not that long ago. I was a weird child, who grew into a weird adult. But back when I was a child once my aunt showed me my IEP. For those of you who didn't spend any time in the special ed room an IEP is an education plan that, well it says what the special ed department intends to do about your particular annoyingness and what they think caused it. Well when I was 15 or so, and I hadn't seen a "special ed" personage in years my aunt was the special ed teacher at my high school and I was hanging out in her office and she asked if I knew what was in my file. Of course they never actually speak to high school students those teachers so I had no idea. From vague memories I believe it said something like I was still suppose to be seeing my speech therapist at least twice a week, that my 8th grade teacher liked that I was loud and that my mother had said she had no idea why I was so loud considering everyone in my home was so quiet. Basically my aunt read this to me and was like, really? and of course: I grew up in one of those houses where everyone was always yelling and swearing and awful to one another. In high school I would sit in my living room reading a book and my step father would yell and swear at my brother and my brother would yell and swear at my mother, then my mother would yell and swear at my step father, then in the random moments no one was fighting all three of them would be running around yelling and swearing at no one in particular in unison. I'm sure they remember this differently, but as I remember that's exactly why I lived on the opposite end of the house from them, and why I hung out in a loft room that I couldn't stand in with no windows, because at least there you couldn't hear them. sometimes, what feels like a lot of times I would be the object of this yelling, I don't deny that I'm loud but I didn't yell back, on some level I think my family life would have been better if I did. I would walk out of the room and they would follow me screaming at me, I'd slam doors over my brother's foot to keep him out of the room. I'd walk miles to town so I wouldn't have to be in the same house with my mother. I'd sit all day in the green under a tree so as not to be there. Not that I was a pleasure of course, I dated guys I couldn't stand because they bugged my mom, or maybe because I never really learned to have my own opinions. If someone told me they wanted something I just went along with it. I made my mother feel like I didn't care if she was alive or dead, and if we're being honest maybe I didn't, but it certainly wasn't personal I didn't care about anything she was just going along with the crowd. I grew up in a world where my experience was completely meaningless, invalidated, untrue. I grew up in a world where no one ever thought to ask me what it was like to go home every day to a brother who told my friends that talking to me made their entire families want to disown them, to a mother who had told me more than once she should have had an abortion, to a family where I was almost positive no one liked anyone else, to a mother who was so obsessed with the fact my brother might be depressed (a brother who was very insistent he was totally fine and just lazy) she didn't notice much of anything else that was going on. I grew up with a father who dismissed the first attempt at a family saying "first I wanted all boys now I want all girls" (after already having a boy) to move on to a new and improved family where he got to name his own children instead of his grandmother naming them. I grew up in a world where I felt like "the cat came back" every time I walked into the house. I grew up in a world where my older brother at least 3 times lost me on purpose and was clearly disappointed when I found my way home. I grew up in a world where when we played hide and seek my friends would forget to find me. This book is about that world. Not all of it. I mean apparently before this book there was a happy life and maybe after this book there will be again, but this book is about all these people at all these unhappy points. It's a muddle through all the things that make us feel meaningless, and suicidal, and psychotic, all the things that remind us of all the terrible things that ever happened to us. all the little girls who treated us badly, every time we knew our parents didn't love us, every time a boy picked someone else, every time we didn't get what we wanted. and what's great about this book is that it reminds us why that's okay to, it reminds us that even in those bad times there were these spots of light these things that made us smile. In a world that was broken, and dark, and desolate there were books and there were pictures and there were moments that were beautiful, this book reminds us that we have those to fall back on. Even in the most abject misery.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anna Ryan-Punch

    I know it's an early call, but this might just be my favourite book of 2011. It is hilarious, intensely moving, beautiful, ugly and honest. It struck home on so many occasions I came out feeling like I'd been run through with hundreds of perfectly realised spears. It surprised how I think about narrative. The effortless way Hustvedt jumps from introspection to narrative, from explication to description, is endlessly inventive and almost always successful. She writes like a novelist should write p I know it's an early call, but this might just be my favourite book of 2011. It is hilarious, intensely moving, beautiful, ugly and honest. It struck home on so many occasions I came out feeling like I'd been run through with hundreds of perfectly realised spears. It surprised how I think about narrative. The effortless way Hustvedt jumps from introspection to narrative, from explication to description, is endlessly inventive and almost always successful. She writes like a novelist should write poetry. It takes a lot for a book to make me cry (conversely, life makes me cry at the drop of a proverbial). But this book turned me into a human rotary sprinkler on multiple occasions, and once, when Hustvedt suddenly addresses the reader directly, I could have dampened the Sahara. I've folded over so many corners in this book it looks like demented origami. Protagonist Mia's catalogue of sexual experiences lends excellent humour ("Libraries are sexual dream factories. The languor brings it on.") Hustvedt's take on the "transcience of human feeling" is so accurate that I wondered if she knew me: "My mercurial fluctuations in the course of a single evening made me feel as if I had a character made of chewing gum. I had fallen into the ugly depths of self-pity, a terrain just above the even more hideous lowlands of despair. Then, easily distracted twit that I am, I had, soon after, found myself on maternal heights, where I had practically swooned with pleasure as I bobbed and fondled the borrowed homunculus next door. I had eaten well, drunk too much wine, and embraced a young woman I hardly knew. In short, I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and had every intention of doing so again." She writes young girls to women and women to elderly women, and her meditations on female identity never failed to challenge and energize me. Elderly Abigail's hidden erotic embroidered creations (her "undies") are wonderfully described - reminiscent of her descriptions of sculpture in the tour de force 'What I Loved'. And the high-art rant of Mr Nobody towards the end raised all the hairs on my arms. Because it was true, and fast, like life. The Summer Without Men is more honest that I could ever be. It made me feel brave. I am going to give it to everyone I know.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura Anne

    Ok, so I gave it one star, mainly because it feels like - successful academic/novelist resting on her laurels. It feels like autobio - the narrator is a 55 year old woman with red hair, who has a university teaching background and oh, is part-time poet. (Ditto Ms H.) Bits I do like - she's funny about Boris - her husband, who wanted a "pause" from the marriage. And her analysis of the 7 teens is exactly right - she includes extracts from their class assignments - a neat little device to differenti Ok, so I gave it one star, mainly because it feels like - successful academic/novelist resting on her laurels. It feels like autobio - the narrator is a 55 year old woman with red hair, who has a university teaching background and oh, is part-time poet. (Ditto Ms H.) Bits I do like - she's funny about Boris - her husband, who wanted a "pause" from the marriage. And her analysis of the 7 teens is exactly right - she includes extracts from their class assignments - a neat little device to differentiate their characters. And I particularly like her re-writing, of scholarly theories, of the difference between males and females: Surely our Ashley, contrary to the good doctor's analysis is deeply interested in 'social dominance' and 'rank related aggression' despite her XX status... But then it's old hat - what all the academics have to say about feminist theory - at least to me it is. Too much academia is just plain stale - in a novel. Another structural criticism - I felt as if the book was crammed with various sub-plots - all of them pretty interesting, but as a kind of compensation for the stasis between the main character and her husband - plenty of emotional action - just not actual action. So again, my main criticism, why not just go ahead and write a memoir - don't call it a novel. Novels need plots (a main one). I suppose, as her husband is also famous, perhaps Hustvedt was not keen to write autobiography. It's like there is a gap in the classification system for this type of book -autobiography thinly disguised as novel? It's also a marketing ploy - as short story writers and poets know very well - their publishers moan and say - but novels sell so much better!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rhena

    Originally posted on Snapshot Inkblot Whatnot Even before I had a copy of any book by Siri Hustvedt, I was already keen on liking her prose mainly because Bennard said I would love her. Which, for all I know, is a contrived effort to make Hustvedt my new favorite author--Hustvedt that is wife to Paul Auster, one of Bennard's favorites. Well, planned or not, it appears that he is right. I loved Hustvedt instantly, the love-at-first-few-pages kind. Aside from being my first novel by new favorite aut Originally posted on Snapshot Inkblot Whatnot Even before I had a copy of any book by Siri Hustvedt, I was already keen on liking her prose mainly because Bennard said I would love her. Which, for all I know, is a contrived effort to make Hustvedt my new favorite author--Hustvedt that is wife to Paul Auster, one of Bennard's favorites. Well, planned or not, it appears that he is right. I loved Hustvedt instantly, the love-at-first-few-pages kind. Aside from being my first novel by new favorite author, The Summer Without Men is also my first contemporary feminist book. And a memorable one at that. The characters are mainly women--Mia the Awesome Protagonist, the Swans in Rolling Meadows, the teen witches of Bonden, Lola the Neighbor-turned-Friend, Bea the Tough Sister, and Daisy the Lively Daughter. Even psychiatrist Dr. S. is a female! They were not portrayed as perfect, all-knowing, and righteous--it wouldn't be realistic if they were, and I would've disliked the book if such was the case--but as strong personalities who accepted life's blows and dealt with them in ways they know best. Men were present in the story too, but they are more of a backdrop, appearing in recollections, letters, and in the periphery. In this book, men were depicted as both the storm and the cooling rain. The storm that some women must weather through in order to be stronger, wiser. The cooling rain that soothes and comforts, the reason for a smile. Siri Hustvedt gets me. On how exactly, I am fumbling to figure out. Maybe it's because of Mia Fredricksen's sense of humor and her use of capital letters/proper nouns to address people, even herself. She can be self-deprecating, and this knowledge of her flaws makes her ridiculing of other characters, like Boris or the Pause, acceptable. Heck, she was betrayed, resulting to brief psychosis, so she had every right to "eviscerate them in fiction." Despite all these hurts she endured and the slow process she underwent to recover, Boris, "the wayward husband," remained dear to her and passed on this contagious feeling to me, the Reader. At the end of the day, I still rooted for them to get back together. The wooing back part was minimalist in words, and yet I found myself stifling giggles as if what I am reading is a chick lit for teens instead of an extinguished-and-reignited love story of a middle-aged couple. Maybe it's the numerous subtopics included in the book. These were meant to be Mia's diversions, her observations, her memories and internal conflicts. And yet, I was permitted to eavesdrop. Brilliant Hustvedt also used this to air her own thoughts. On philosophy, poetry, psychology, and evolution. On the prevalent mediocrity and perverse anti-intellectual culture. On vulnerability of childhood and fragility of old age. Even on sex and seduction. Mia tackled all these succinctly. She didn't dwell, but she also gave resolutions to all. Well, at least for me there was closure. What I got by the end of the book was way more that what I signed up for. So yeah, Zeitgeist fulfilled! Maybe it's her style, in general. Her tone, her choice of words, her brevity and yet vivid imagery. Or her characters? Yes, her colorful characters and the way I could relate with some of them as if they too had been living my life all along. It's also her unpredictability. You might disagree with me and tell me that there are quite a handful of other writers who can outclass Hustvedt if only in terms of this criterion, but do know that I haven't read a lot of books yet. Let us leave this as my first discovery. Siri Hustvedt gets me. On how exactly? You got your answer. This review of The Summer Without Men should be more aptly titled Siri Hustvedt Appreciation Post.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ruby

    04/18 upon re-reading this book is REALLY NOT THAT GREAT AT ALL and so unsubtle but idc still here for the secret amusements and the female cast 03/16 to be honest this book was kind of weird and inconsistent and also v. different in tone from hustvedt's other work, but i just liked reading about the secret amusements a lot 04/18 upon re-reading this book is REALLY NOT THAT GREAT AT ALL and so unsubtle but idc still here for the secret amusements and the female cast 03/16 to be honest this book was kind of weird and inconsistent and also v. different in tone from hustvedt's other work, but i just liked reading about the secret amusements a lot

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karina

    4.5 stars - I enjoyed myself so much while reading this. Another great novel by Siri Hustvedt and maybe even the one I'd recommend to pick up first. 4.5 stars - I enjoyed myself so much while reading this. Another great novel by Siri Hustvedt and maybe even the one I'd recommend to pick up first.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    I both loved and hated this book. The things that annoyed me: 1. My first annoyance can be summed up in the last sentence of the book: "Let him come to me." The main character, Mia, has no agency whatsoever in her marriage. Boris deserts her, she goes nuts for a while, she spends a summer with her mom, her mom's friends, some poetry students and a neighbor, and then Boris more or less randomly comes back to her. Women writers complain that we aren't taken as seriously as male writers. Maybe it's I both loved and hated this book. The things that annoyed me: 1. My first annoyance can be summed up in the last sentence of the book: "Let him come to me." The main character, Mia, has no agency whatsoever in her marriage. Boris deserts her, she goes nuts for a while, she spends a summer with her mom, her mom's friends, some poetry students and a neighbor, and then Boris more or less randomly comes back to her. Women writers complain that we aren't taken as seriously as male writers. Maybe it's because so many women writers write passive female characters to whom things happen. 2. If you use cheap techniques in your writing, having your character acknowledge them does not make them somehow okay. Deus ex machina is still deus ex machina, even if your character breezily describes it as such. It still counts as cheap (and, once again, removes agency from yet another character). And if you're going to use the cliche that one of your characters "blew into town," JUST USE IT, FOR GOD'S SAKE, don't have your character justify why it's the perfect phrase to use and therefore not a cliche in this case. With all that said, there were things that I liked about this book. The treatments of time and thought were creative and interesting, and I enjoyed Mia's wry voice. I also liked that her mom and her elderly friends were treated with respect as individual characters and not as stock "feisty little old ladies." And I really liked the sensitive, honest, and yet gently humorous treatment of bullying among teenage girls.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lulufrances

    Actual rating 4.5 Very intelligent. So very intelligent in fact, I wasn't sure in the beginning if I would get it or if it would be too much hard work. Rest assured, I did, and it was brilliant. My first try at Siri Hustvedt - spotted it on a libraryshelf and got it because I had seen it on bookstagram just the day before. Something just has to be said for curiously entering a novel without knowing anything about it. The narrator, Mia, was distinctly different to other narrators I've encountered, as s Actual rating 4.5 Very intelligent. So very intelligent in fact, I wasn't sure in the beginning if I would get it or if it would be too much hard work. Rest assured, I did, and it was brilliant. My first try at Siri Hustvedt - spotted it on a libraryshelf and got it because I had seen it on bookstagram just the day before. Something just has to be said for curiously entering a novel without knowing anything about it. The narrator, Mia, was distinctly different to other narrators I've encountered, as someone blurbed another one of Hustvedt's books - you get the feeling you are in the soul of another person, you get to know them in such proximity; rather scary how attached I became to Mia after mere 200 pages. Honestly, I enjoyed the writing in this so much, speckled with random philosophical observations, letters, even a certain meta-ness when Mia addresses the reader multiple times and I especially loved the fleeting and reoccuring dashes of whimsy. To a maturer reader, or person, some of the novel might appear pretentious, perhaps wannabe deep even, but to this wee 21 year old it held many profound remarks and were it not the library copy, I might have underlined a few paragraphs. (Not true, actually, I don't ever do that to my own books, but you know...in theory) How ironic is it that despite the topic it shone a beautiful, non-overromanticizing light on long marriages and this beauty really moved me. Will have to request more Siri Hustvedt novels from the library. Definitly.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Monique

    This book stirred feelings and thoughts on old age, mortality, and important relationships. And there was that beautiful paragraph about how, after decades of marriage, your other senses - not just the eyes - make you realize how much you love your spouse.

  25. 4 out of 5

    B the BookAddict

    My second Hustvedt book and although I did like it better than The Sorrows of an American, I don't feel compelled to read any more of her novels. Mia's relationships with her elderly mother and the 'Four Swans' (mother's friends) is quite lovely. But the writer's habit of quoting and ruminating of historical authors, while relevant, is too long winded. My copy has some paragraphs which run for four or five pages each and I found this to be tiring: felt like I was running out of breath and kept lo My second Hustvedt book and although I did like it better than The Sorrows of an American, I don't feel compelled to read any more of her novels. Mia's relationships with her elderly mother and the 'Four Swans' (mother's friends) is quite lovely. But the writer's habit of quoting and ruminating of historical authors, while relevant, is too long winded. My copy has some paragraphs which run for four or five pages each and I found this to be tiring: felt like I was running out of breath and kept losing my place. The author begins in a first person narrative but lurches disconcertingly into addressing the reader part way through. Overall, a passable novel but I could have lived without reading it. The references to Socrates, Plato, Homer and Freud and the discussion of their ideas save this from being full-on chick-lit (thank goodness), so it's probably what I term Women's Fiction. 3★

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    This book was NOT 192 pages....anyhow...I read another book by this author, so when I saw this galley at work, I jumped to take it. That being said, it was a confusing, meandering read that had many good qualities, but a lot of bad ones as well. The main plot is about a woman whose husband cheats on her, so she goes a big looney and ends up in the mental ward. She then moves back home with her older mother, and hangs out with her mother's elderly friends who are all ailing and/or dying, a next d This book was NOT 192 pages....anyhow...I read another book by this author, so when I saw this galley at work, I jumped to take it. That being said, it was a confusing, meandering read that had many good qualities, but a lot of bad ones as well. The main plot is about a woman whose husband cheats on her, so she goes a big looney and ends up in the mental ward. She then moves back home with her older mother, and hangs out with her mother's elderly friends who are all ailing and/or dying, a next door neighbor with two kids and an abusive husband, and a group of pre-teen girls who are taking her poetry class. This book kind of was hard to follow because it jumped all over the place. The writing style was very good, but overall, the plot was a bit disjointed.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    This is the fourth Siri Hustvedt novel I have read, and I can now say that she is consistently readable, thought-provoking and full of ideas. This one at first glance appears to have very little plot, but is packed with sharp and humourous observations on life, love and people's motivations, mixed with a fair bit of philosophy and psychology. It tells the tale of a woman whose husband decides to take a "pause" in their marriage to pursue an affair, while she retreats to her childhood hometown in This is the fourth Siri Hustvedt novel I have read, and I can now say that she is consistently readable, thought-provoking and full of ideas. This one at first glance appears to have very little plot, but is packed with sharp and humourous observations on life, love and people's motivations, mixed with a fair bit of philosophy and psychology. It tells the tale of a woman whose husband decides to take a "pause" in their marriage to pursue an affair, while she retreats to her childhood hometown in the mid-West to reflect, recover, and find friendship with a number of women of different ages and backgrounds.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    I do enjoy Siri Hustvedt. This is the second book by her I have read this year. Beautifully written with a light and sure touch. One thing I did like was that she didn't dot all the Is and cross all the Ts - we are left to speculate on some things in the story. I do enjoy Siri Hustvedt. This is the second book by her I have read this year. Beautifully written with a light and sure touch. One thing I did like was that she didn't dot all the Is and cross all the Ts - we are left to speculate on some things in the story.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    A reasonably enjoyable if very self aware novel - I'm not sure if this book knows what it is trying to be. Don't be fooled by the chick-lit cover! Even when Siri Hustvedt is writing something that seems lighter, you know that isn't going to be the case. There's a lot going on in The Summer Without Men - book clubs in old people's homes, musings on philosophy, poetry classes, neighbours with marriage problems and wig-wearing children - but all of it revolves around the protagonist, the 55-year-old A reasonably enjoyable if very self aware novel - I'm not sure if this book knows what it is trying to be. Don't be fooled by the chick-lit cover! Even when Siri Hustvedt is writing something that seems lighter, you know that isn't going to be the case. There's a lot going on in The Summer Without Men - book clubs in old people's homes, musings on philosophy, poetry classes, neighbours with marriage problems and wig-wearing children - but all of it revolves around the protagonist, the 55-year-old Mia. Mia's husband informs her he wants to "pause" their marriage while he pursues a relationship with a much younger female colleague. Mia subsequently has a nervous breakdown, returns to her hometown and spends the summer teaching a poetry class to seven pre-teens and hanging out with her elderly mother's friends in their assisted living community. This isn't a summer entirely without men, but very few feature in the book, and when they do it is in an epistolary and minor manner - Boris (Mia's husband) communicates with her solely through letters, as does a man (but is he a man? we never find out), Nobody, who writes Mia letters confronting her innermost fears. The only other man is her neighbour's husband, but he hardly features at all. The Summer Without Men is at its best when Hustvedt focuses on the burgeoning friendship between Mia and Abigail, one of Mia's mother's elderly friends. I could have read an entire book about her and her hidden embroideries she seems to have spent her life creating. The novel is thin on plot - disappointingly a fair part of the narrative revolves around whether or not Mia and Boris will get back together - and I didn't find it all wholly convincing. I really liked the sections with the older women like Abigail and Regina, but enjoyed the poetry class sections less. The seven girls were pretty much indistinguishable from each other, and I don't really get what Hustvedt was trying to say here. Also unconvincing were the random parts about philosophy, literature and gender science, which kind of reminded me of Sight - I get why it was there, but it didn't work for me. And Mia sometimes broke the fourth wall, which was kind of odd. I've focused on the things that didn't work for me because they are easier to recall, but I definitely don't regret reading this one. I liked that the "pause" gave Mia a chance to reconsider her marriage and get close to people she probably wouldn't have encountered otherwise. Like I said, I think the downfall of this novel is that there is too much going on, meaning plot-lines didn't get as developed as they perhaps should have.

  30. 5 out of 5

    pani Katarzyna

    I am rather puzzled about “The Summer Without Men”. The main character, Mia, is devastated after her husband of thirty or so years asks her for a “pause”, or a break from their marriage. It’s not that he’s necessarily that weary of it, he just happens to have an affair with a young co-worker. Consequently, our heroine suffers from a mental breakdown, then decides to give herself a bit of a “life reset” and moves from NYC to a small town in Minnesota. There she spends time with her elderly mother I am rather puzzled about “The Summer Without Men”. The main character, Mia, is devastated after her husband of thirty or so years asks her for a “pause”, or a break from their marriage. It’s not that he’s necessarily that weary of it, he just happens to have an affair with a young co-worker. Consequently, our heroine suffers from a mental breakdown, then decides to give herself a bit of a “life reset” and moves from NYC to a small town in Minnesota. There she spends time with her elderly mother and her mother’s friends. She also teaches the craft of poetry to a group of thirteen year old girls. The husband and the “pause” bit is SO worn out and frayed that when I started the book, I almost put it down because how many times can you read about these unfaithful husbands? But then, well, it happens all the time. Like death. Nobody ever bitches that someone is writing about aging and death all the time, so why be so upset about the cheating bit? I must say, I am really glad I continued. While the plot and the action are secondary, meaning: not overly original and gripping, and the style of writing is devoid of quirks and uniqueness that I am usually very fond of, there is a lot of poetry and simple beauty in Hustvedt’s prose. While the women’s issues discussed in “The Summer Without Men” are the same ones I have read about over and over in dozens of other novels, essays and articles, the author expresses them with either vehemence or almost motherly familiarity that I haven’t encountered anywhere else. I slowly (albeit slightly) fell in love with the warmth of this well-paced book. (An off comment: the main character is a poet who sometimes shares her poems with us. And they are absolutely horrible! This is not the first time that I encounter a prose writer trying to incorporate some poetry of a character in their novel – usually the outcome is abysmal. Which is interesting! Somebody should study these instances, make a collection out of them or something). So yeah, I am slightly torn trying to come up with some overall conclusion about it. In many ways “The Summer” is like life. There are obvious bits but they are so strikingly real, and then there’s this warmth and encouragement in sheer perseverance, going day by day, enduring. I would like to read another book by Siri Hustvedt sometime and see how it compares.

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