SPEAKING OF SUMMER by Kalisha Buckhanon


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Buckhanon’s fourth novel (Solemn, 2016, etc.) charts a tumultuous year in the life of a black woman whose mother has died and twin sister has vanished.

It’s 2015, and a grieving Autumn Spencer loses her grip on her professional and personal lives as she searches for her missing sister, Summer. While the novel explores issues of race, gender, and violence with nuance, too often awkward prose distracts from the story’s gravity. At times it can be hard to believe that Autumn, a 34-year-old Midwestern transplant to Harlem, is a savvy freelance marketer and website wordsmith given the book’s odd narration. At one point, Autumn describes the people who've helped her as having “emerged in my time of need as suddenly as a cold sore, in unpredictable sequence and bulk,” a peculiar simile for a group of supporters. Her descent into financial insecurity is convincing as she loses clients while she's obsessing over Summer, but other storylines lack emotional resonance. Much of the novel unfolds in Autumn’s disembodied thoughts, untethered from time and space, rather than in concrete scenes, especially early on. The story's main characters rarely interact in real time. Buckhanon reserves flashbacks for a particular moment in Autumn’s childhood after the death of her father, but these too occur mostly in overview. These structural choices sacrifice clarity for the sake of suspense. The story does open up about halfway through with a crucial revelation that allows for more satisfying novelistic scenes and conflicts. Buckhanon understands the complexities of trauma. Her portrait of Autumn’s grief, fragmented memories, and inner turmoil all synthesize current scientific research on how people cope with traumatic experiences and might seek to heal.

Unfortunately, a somewhat clumsy chase for mystery overshadows the accurate portrayal of one woman’s struggles with mental health.

Pub Date: July 30th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-64009-191-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019


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