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SUMMER OF NIGHT by Dan Simmons

SUMMER OF NIGHT

By Dan Simmons

ISBN: 399-13573-1
Publisher: Putnam

Illinois horror tale by a hot genre novelist whose recent works (Carrion Comfort, The Fall of Hyperion--both 1990) have disappointed but whose first novel, Song of Kali (1985), won the World Fantasy Award. After a superb opening chapter describing the chalkdust memories of a huge old elementary school building--a monster of architectural diversity that is about to be boarded up as a relic--Simmons begins gathering pages as if for a New Grub Street three-decker. Many familiar with Stephen King's "The Body" (filmed as Stand by Me) will feel they've been here before, as six preteen lads and a tomboy try to unravel the horror that stalks Elm Haven. How sweet they are, those 1960 childhood memories abloom under shadowy evening elms, and Simmons does a nice job feeding us endless rustling branches and darting black blobs and working up hellholes under a boy's bed while the novel treads water and grows fat on the crawlies. The first kid to be lost is Tubby, who goes down to the basement boy's room and finds a hole in the wall, climbs in, and is pretty much eaten alive. A second kid, Jim Harlen, climbs the closed-up nighttime building to its second floor and witnesses one of his old lady teachers talking with the phosphorescent corpse of an even older lady teacher--at which point he falls off the building and into amnesia. We think we are with Duane McBride for the story's run, but Duane is chewed to pieces midnovel by a rampaging corn combine. Along with the evil combine there is also a death-stinking dead-animals truck, called the Rendering Truck, that (shades of Christine) has a gory half-mind of its own. Among a boy's radio set that talks when it's not turned on; a WW I Old Soldier's ghoul-ghost whose nose can turn into a mosquito's bloodsucking proboscis; the haunted Borgia Bell in the school's belfry; and the wildly betoothed, burrowing, nine-foot black eels of back-rippling nastiness, we find ourselves (Simmons's big joke) in a live-action, flesh-rotting world of the infamous Sixties horror comic Tales from the Crypt. The King-like cursing of these kids is unconvincing, but this is otherwise a superior read in the genre.