The Summer Without Men
By Siri Hustvedt
Completed June 8, 2011
Mia Frederickson is the narrator and main character in Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel, The Summer Without Men. Through her eyes, the reader is treated to a wonderful (although sometimes rambling) story about a woman trying to make sense of the gender differences that still plague us.
Mia has escaped to her hometown after her husband, Boris, announced he wanted a “pause” in their marriage. Boris’ idea of a pause, by the way, is leaving his wife for a French co-worker. Understandably, Mia is upset, and after a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital, Mia comes home to her mother and her own kind of “pause.”
Now Mia could have gone crazy – running around with a man half her age or lavishing herself with a new wardrobe. Instead, Mia agrees to teach a poetry workshop to seven 12-year-old girls, visit her mother’s friends at a retirement home and help a young neighbor with her small children. Through these cirumstances, Mia encounters aging, bullying, marital strife, lifelong secrets and depression, which provides Mia a backdrop to examine her own life.
The Summer Without Men is not pitch perfect. You have to endure Mia’s tangents – a thorough philosophical and poetic look at the differences between the sexes. Personally, I found most of Mia’s side stories interesting, though some did bog the story down. What I did like, though, is Mia’s direct candor with her audience, asking her Reader to bear with her as she examined what was on her mind. You could hardly dislike that.
Each of the women in the novel offered their own story – my favorite being Abigail who had a secret, double life. By day, Abigail, who was more than 100 years old during the novel, was a retired art teacher. Then, we learn about the other side of Abigail: a repressed lesbian who stroked her artistic ways by creating elaborate and hidden embroidery that would have shocked people from her generation. Abigail was a lot of fun – and a reminder that age is only a number.
I wish I had the benefit of reading The Summer Without Men with others to discuss the many themes and characters that appeared in this slim novel. It’s certainly a good selection for a book club. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to explore gender issues in fiction – and read about a woman’s attempt to understand it all. ( )