FAREWELL, SUMMER by Helen Hooven Santmyer


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Written just before the giant "". . .And Ladies of the Club"" (published in 1984 but written decades earlier), another stylistically dated but curiously engaging story from the late chronicler of life in small Ohio towns. Set in 1905, this novella tells the tale of young love doomed by circumstance and a legacy of alienation, and muffled by the decorum of the times. The narrator, Elizabeth, tells of her 11th summer in the town of Sunbury--that summer when cousin Steve, orphaned son of headstrong, hard-luck Cousin Cond from Texas, is brought ""home"" by elegant Cousin Tune to live with Grandmother. To lonely Steve, Ohio was ""the promised land. . .the country he had always heard of as 'back home' [where] nothing could happen to him that he wanted not to happen."" He looked at Sunbury ""with wonder and delight."" But whereas Steve was warmly clasped to the family bosom, Damaris Barkalow--grandchild of Cousin John, offspring of his divorced son (a cross the wealthy and proud Barkalows bear in silence) is not so easy to absorb. A slight, solitary girl, Damaris, inexplicably raised a Catholic (anathema to her Presbyterian Grandmother), wants to be a nun. The mutual attraction of Damaris (delicately pretty, quiet but wary) and Steve (sunny, extravagantly generous, Wild West breaker of horses) is immediate and consuming. Still, the wily Damaris chooses protection before passion: the two part, and there is the inevitable tragedy. The author not only penetrates the iron compound of family affiliation--where old feuds still simmer and rankle--but a time when survivors of the Civil War were still in their prime, when battles, comrades and commanders were fresh in mind, the War being ""the climax of all that had happened to the older people of Sunbury."" And throughout there is the flavor of summer, ""eternally the same, a warm and golden light in the mind."" Of Santmyer's short works, then, the most skillful and appealing.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1988
ISBN: 0814208681
Publisher: Harper & Row