Susan Crandall and the Path Home
Dysfunctional families, though they might be enticing and dramatic subjects for countless books and movies out there, bring much more woe than most authors account for or can convey. As a matter of fact, it seems it's become the common trait given to characters writers want to give a tragic background to, a small addition to a mass of elements, ultimately to be cheaply glossed over.
However, there is always the other side of the coin, and today Susan Crandall stands on it with her novel titled The Myth of Perpetual Summer. Where most stories would pay little mind to the family dynamics or create portrayals seeking only to shock the reader, this one approaches the subject with all the honesty and dignity it deserves.
The story opens up in 1972 as we are introduced to Tallulah James, living on her own in San Francisco, having escaped the tragedy which is her family nine years ago. However, she gets word her brother Walden has just been arrested for murder in New Orleans... the brother she once left behind. She doesn't know much, but she is certain she must come back home and try to save him, even if it means getting back in the touch with the family she left so long ago. From there on out the story branches between the past and the present, following Tallulah's upbringing and her current fight to save her brother as well as perhaps salvage what little remains of her family.
A Nonexistent Childhood
On some level it feels as if this book is made from two shorter novels blended together into one. While they do correlate with each other on various levels, for the most part it feels as if you're reading through two independent tales with their own unique characteristics. While I believe many authors would be incapable of adopting this sort of model and making the story feel realistic and organic, Susan Crandall succeeds at it much better than most. The jumps between the timelines as you switch from one chapter to the next never feel too rushed or abrupt, always having some sort of connection for you to hold on to and get into the zone of the incoming pages. Additionally, both stories, despite being quite different, end up complementing each other with their varying qualities.
The storyline dedicated to exploring Tallulah's childhood is particularly fascinating, depicting in great detail the inner workings of a family falling apart at the seams. We walk with her through her childhood largely marked by the absence of her parents and the duty of raising her two siblings which inadvertently fell on her shoulders. We bear witness to the destructive maelstrom of her parents' relationship, how it wreaks havoc on the entire family. Amidst it all, there is the strong and stern grandmother, the dedicated keeper of family secrets. Crandall ensures we feel the full psychological burden of this setting on Tallulah every step of the way, constantly reminded about how every single second of her existence devolved into struggle. The path taken by the family in its unravelling feels very logical, deliberate and realistic... almost to the point where I have the impression it might be based on something concrete, and for that I applaud the author.
Old Demons Never Rest
The expositions into the past provide many interesting plot points and explanations in regards to the characters, but the present day is where, in my opinion, the more exciting and hopeful parts of the book lie. The whole story surrounding Walden and the murder he is accused of makes for a compelling mystery as we always feel there is something amiss, preventing us from seeing the complete picture. As you might imagine, there are more than a few twists and turns to contend with, and while I would characterize some of them as being relatively tame, on the whole I felt satisfied with where the story took me. After all, this isn't an outright thriller and thus it would be unfair to judge it as one.
At the same time it is equally fascinating to see Tallulah reunite with the family she abandoned long ago and watch as she tentatively tries to mend some connections here and there. There are definitely some moments of shining hope to be found in these parts which heavily contrast with the rest of the book, and I believe they are quite necessary in making the story work as a whole. Naturally, with Crandall going for realism above all else, not every story leads to a happy ending, nor do any miracles appear out of thin air to save the day... and I take very kindly to this philosophy. The reminder of the cruelty which real life might bring always looms in the air, to the point where we ourselves are tempted to glance at our own demons waiting to be confronted.
The Final Verdict
In the end, The Myth of Perpetual Summer by Susan Crandall is a powerful novel about family, tragedy, loss, love, hope and redemption, with an entertaining story to boot driven by sympathetic characters. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys family dramas with tragic overtones.
David ben Efraim (https://bookwormex.com)
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