THE SUMMER WE FELL APART.
By Robin Antalek.
Harper Collins, 370 pages, $14.95, paperback.
“In terms of parental guidance, we may as well have been raised by wolves.” This self-deprecating sentence, recorded in Robin Antalek’s first novel, “The Summer We Fell Apart” is a realistic prelude to what is one of the most riveting works of fiction that I have had the pleasure of reading.
There are four children in the Haas family, along with an exchange student, and their wayward parents are troubled and vexed from the first chapter until the last word of this esoteric read.
The novel is cunningly divided into five parts, and Antalek allows each major character to form his or her own voice and through this window reflects different views of the same scene.
Marilyn, the mom, is an actress who has absolutely no interest in child rearing. Her days consist of sleeping, rehearsing and preparing for the stage spotlight. Her narcissism forces her children to become cooks, maids and babysitters.
Amy leaves home as soon as possible after graduation. She flees to Rhode Island and refuses to return home for almost two years. She is saddened to note when arriving back, that the house looks worse than ever noting, “the entire structure now listed to the left.” Reuniting with her mother provides no pleasure, as Amy recalls the horrific parenting skills exhibited by her folks. She says, “more than once I wanted to ask her why she had even bothered with children.”
Finn, the family favorite, drops out of college, and shuffles through life in a blurry alcoholic and drug-induced haze. His stints in rehab and continual bad choices, disgust and annoy his family. When given an opportunity to prove himself with a major project, he reverts to his self-destructive ways and is forced to make a decision concerning his wasted life.
Kate flees to Florence, Italy and absolutely refuses contact with her family. At age 34, she is a successful attorney, completely wrapped up in her career. Of her family she says, “There is no reason to go home. The house is falling apart, my three younger siblings make me crazy and my parents fight constantly. I will not be lured back by guilt.”
George becomes an English teacher and desperately guards a secret lifestyle from his colleagues and family. As George becomes more comfortable with his inner self, the author chooses to share some same-sex scenes that were, to me, appalling. Fair warning: Things get a bit graphic as this relationship evolves.
Their father’s death forces a reunion and the subsequent funeral, with “no flowers and no guests other than the children is just awful.” Their final tribute to him, as they spread his ashes: “Here’s to you, Dad — we hardly knew ya.”
I give this one an eight out of 10 and look forward to Antalek’s next novel.
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