“Book Review: The Summer Demands”
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
An intimate novel of quiet growth and dynamic relationships
For people wishing they had experienced a summer camp in New England, Deborah Shapiro’s novel might seem like a dream, but this one comes with a whole lot more baggage. In The Summer Demands, Shapiro gives us a glimpse into the lives of one couple and the summer might change their lives forever.
Emily and her husband David pack up their things and move halfway across the country to revitalize a summer camp they inherit from her aunt. In the house her aunt and uncle once resided, she experiences a place filled with history and memories of summers past. Like the aunt before her, she lives childless with her partner, reflecting and yearning for more about the similarities they might not have known they shared.
On a walk through the abandoned camp, Emily stumbles upon a girl who has taken residence in one of the bunks. As Emily gets to know her new guest, Stella, something awakens in her. In her own mind, Emily can make Stella shift into whichever empty space she most wants to be filled at the time, and Stella fills each role like it is made for her. This, like most escape attempts, doesn’t go quite as planned.
“She had trespassed on our private property, but I didn’t seem to mind. Even though all I really knew of her was that she played jacks, supposedly worked as a barista, had a cell phone and bike…. That she was a cause, perhaps, of the strange, subtle coiling feeling taking place in side me. She was alert, ascertaining. I knocked and she answered.”
Author Deborah Shapiro sets the mood with her high-tension situations that ease into varying levels of calm. Sometimes, it’s the simple calm that comes with having a peaceful setting like an abandoned camp. Other times, it’s a forced calm that’s used to hide underlying issues. The small silences that take place in this hugely underused space is filled with things unsaid, hanging overhead like a water balloon waiting to drop. I often found myself holding my breath during this novel, not knowing if or when someone was going to make a move that would cause something (or someone) to explode.
As readers, you’re sure to sympathize with Emily as well as feel compassion for her. On the verge of her fortieth birthday, she is just as unsure of herself as when she was a camper years ago. She is a character that you can root for, her struggles proving so revealing and honest. Miscarriage, marital problems, and loneliness plague this amazingly human character. She submits to her unsureness, creating a full personality that is easy to wish well on.
“So often in a situation my first question is: Am I doing something wrong? I care less about what the answer is, but that’s still the first question.”
Shapiro grabs the reader by the feelings with her characters in this one. They’ll resonate with just about any human to an uncomfortable degree. The Summer Demands reminds us that life stays just as complicated, if not increasingly so, as we grow older. Though there’s always time to change circumstances, characters like Emily hint that who we are is often who we’ll always be, veering from side to side at times, but always settling back to our center.
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