Something Like Summer is a love story, with a potentially interesting play between love and conflict, friendship and love, personal and social identities. Set in Texas, it follows the long and intricate love story between Ben and Tim, starting from their school days and continuing for a decade. The strong point of the novel is the development of the relationship between the main character and his partner, which changes from friendship to lovers, then to enemies, then changes again.
The social context presents a missed opportunity for me: Texas, homophobic, reactionary, though sometimes beautifully presented in terms of weather and scenery, would have been portrayed much more realistically if Ben was not safely out as a gay man. Being a very contemporary novel (2011) and set in the contemporary world, Jay Bell totally misses the opportunity to provide an interaction between the protagonist and his social context that we can find believable and which would have added pathos to the story.
Jay Bell writes well, but not exceptionally so: the odd simile here and there and an ability to present the characters' feelings through pathetic fallacy are clearly the stronger assets. Altogether, the style is enjoyable. There is, however, a major mistake in the writing of this novel: the use of the third person narrative; a first person would have allowed readers direct access into Ben's heart and mind. The fact that the novel is more romance than coming of age is no excuse for using a third person when there is clearly one main protagonist: this has been done very successfully in canonical novels such as 'Pride and Prejudice'. More refined narrative techniques do not seem to be within the skills of this author, who seems to rely on well-honed, but simpler ones.
From the perspective of a gay man, this novel is just ok, for lack of a better word. It is interesting, well written and mostly believable (though not fully), however, it does not reflect or even attempt to express the deep intensity of 'being gay', its complicated emotional and social dimension and its beauty.
Book Reviewed by Billy Best
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