Stephen's Reviews > The Summer I Died

The Summer I Died by Ryan C. Thomas
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May 09, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: ebooks, 2006-2010, psychos, horror, favorite-villains, the-creeps
Read from November 13 to 18, 2011 — I own a copy

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That is significantly understating the effect this book had on me. I finished it last weekend having been reduced to a shocked, emotionally shredded child who suddenly didn’t feel comfortable with the world around me. Since that time, I've mostly recovered from the experience though there are aspects of the story that may never completely leave me. In light of the above, I want to be careful in my recommendation of this book to others (there’s a verbal ink blot test below that may help).

This book is troubling, depraved, graphic and unrelenting in its brutality, and there are passages and events that WILL affect you, possibly significantly. However, this book is also superbly crafted and deftly told by a writer who has earned my deep respect for creating this dust-jacket wearing nightmare of terror.

Before I continue, here is a quick tour of the set up.

PLOT SUMMARY

Roger and Tooth are best friends. Roger is home from college for the summer and is staying at his parent's with his sister while mom and dad are on vacation. Tooth is Roger's intelligent, thrill-seeking best friend who drinks way too much (a legacy from his alcoholic father) and, at 20 years of age, sees no way out of the dead end life he has carved for himself.

One day, Roger and Tooth are target shooting in secluded woods miles outside of town. As they're getting ready to leave, they hear a woman screaming. They decide to investigate…and find the most unimaginable nightmare you can possibly conceive of waiting for them.

From there...non-stop horror.

THOUGHTS

This story is gut-wrenching...as unfiltered and unwavering a depiction of torture and sadism as you are likely to find. For those that have read American Psycho, there are scenes in this novel that rise to the level of depravity depicted in the most graphic passages from Ellison’s novel. However, what makes this story’s violence so much harder for me to handle is that I truly cared for both Roger and Tooth by the time the horror began.

That is a critical difference because, as callous as it may sound, watching a stranger get shot, while traumatic, does not compare emotionally with watching a loved one suffer the same fate. That is the darkest, most painful aspect of this story. We care desperately about the victims and it makes the telling of their fate so much worse.

So, is this or is this not torture porn?

This is a tough one for me because I am NOT, I repeat NOT, a fan of movies that seem to revel and bask in torture and/or sadism (e.g., the Saw movies, Hostel, etc.). However, I have enjoyed (probably not the most apt term) some movies that are deeply disturbing and have significant violence in them because I thought they were terrifying (and isn’t that why we watch them). An examples of this kind of movie is The Strangers which freaked me out.

So back to the question…is this torture porn? Well, if torture porn is defined as a novel where violence and torture are a central component of the plot than The Summer I Died is clearly torture porn. Torture and violence are key ingredients. However, the non-torture, non-violent elements of this are so well done and the prose is so engaging that I have struggle bestowing what I feel is a derogatory label on it.

I guess that will have to do as a non –answer.

Roger and Tooth are wonderful characters. Their relationship is real and genuine and pitch-perfect. This makes the horror of their ordeal difficult for me to adequately describe because you need that sense of attachment to fully comprehend it. Even more impressive is that the bonds of friendship between the two reaches new levels of strength AFTER the nightmare begins.

I’m not going to give away spoilers but there is a point in the story when, as a reader, you are gasping for breath, begging for a pause in the narrative to be able to gather yourself. However, instead of any reprieve, the author devilishly introduces a new element into the story that rips away the last vestiges of sanity and makes you suddenly cognisant that the horror is inexorable and that you are treading territory you've not walked before.

Full stop...

Now, the above paragraph is a decent Rorschach Test to assist you in deciding whether you want to read this. If the curiosity for what happens outweighs your sense of dread…than enter reckless reader, but remember my warning. Alternatively, if your “squeamish sensor” is going off like a police siren, than you may want to skip this one and save yourself the night terrors that may follow.

My final word on the book (again without a spoiler) is the ending. It was PERFECT. I can not adequately express how impressed I was with the author’s ability to find a way to bring a sense of uplift to this unrelentingly brutal tale. The ending was as shocking in beauty as the new element referenced above was in its vileness.

For me, it was the ending that raised this book to among the ranks of among the best “horror” experiences of my literary life. While I found much of the last half of the book tough to stomach and did not “enjoy” it, the narrative engaged me to exhaustion and made me feel at a level few books have. When the author gifted me with the end, he made it a profound statement on friendship and the strength of bonds between people that I think makes this worth experiencing.

Bravo, Mr. Thomas. Well done, sir.

Thus, 5.0 stars and my HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION…but with the caveats above as you must be able to tread the darkest, most depraved corners of the human experience.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 50) (50 new)

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Trudi Ack!!!!


Stephen I just finished it...it is going to take me some time to process...intense is an understatement.


Trudi There are certain images that I will NEVER be able to get out of my head.


Bill I had to collect myself as well. Looking forward to your review on this one!


Bill I've been waiting all week to see what you thought of this novel and it was well worth it. Excellent review!


Stephen Thanks, Bill. This was a tough one to review as I really want to recommend it, but I want to make sure people know it is a tough one to get through.


message 7: by Becky (new) - added it

Becky I'm really intrigued... and kind of scared. O_o


message 8: by Becky (new) - added it

Becky Dammit! My library doesn't have this. Prudes.


Shovelmonkey1 I survived American Psycho with merely a wry grin and a shrug at the age of 16 so i'd be prepared to give this a go.


message 10: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Widest possible berth. Not a damn chance. Whoa Nelly, no no no! Thanks for warning me off, I saw this in the liberry and was intrigued by the title but in a hurry so I didn't stop for it.

*whew*


Samantha Im probably going to regret it, but instead of warning me off you review has just made me really curious......


message 12: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Agreed: after reading your review, I just have to go there.


Stephen Shovelmonkey1 wrote: "I survived American Psycho with merely a wry grin and a shrug at the age of 16 so i'd be prepared to give this a go."

You will probably be fine then. This was more distrubing for me only because of my good feelings for the characters.


Stephen Richard wrote: "Widest possible berth. Not a damn chance. Whoa Nelly, no no no! Thanks for warning me off, I saw this in the liberry and was intrigued by the title but in a hurry so I didn't stop for it.

*whew*"


That is what I would have guessed. Happy to be your warning beacon.


Stephen Samantha & Daniel -

Welcome to the darkside.


message 16: by Dina (new)

Dina Curiosity killed the cat... and it might kill me too, but I can't resist. I. Must. Know. What. The. Heck. Happens. In. This. Book!


Stephen Dina wrote: "Curiosity killed the cat... and it might kill me too, but I can't resist. I. Must. Know. What. The. Heck. Happens. In. This. Book!"

I had the exact same feeling going into the book. I survived but it was close.


Trudi Awesome review Stephen! This book truly is that diamond in the rough when it comes to extreme horror -- all the depravity that can possibly be imagined in the human mind, but with the inclusion of characters that the reader cares about. It's rare to have both executed so well in the same book.

In a recent documentary, this is how Stephen King distinguishes 'torture porn': there are times when we are reading/watching to see the monster killed, and there are other times when we are reading/watching to see the monster kill. That's why the latter makes us feel so dirty; King refers to it as "morally queasy".

In most horror, we want the monster to be slain, we want the good guys to prevail. Bad shit can happen along the way, but the monster should not become the hero. We root for the victims, we do not root for the sick motherfucker and the pain and carnage he/she/it is inflicting. Because we care so much about Roger and Tooth and their survival, I don't think The Summer I Died is torture porn. It's too emotional a story for that I think. We care too much.


Trudi I loved The Strangers as well. That movie messed me up (but in a good way).


Stephen Trudi wrote: "In most horror, we want the monster to be slain, we want the good guys to prevail. Bad shit can happen along the way, but the monster should not become the hero. We root for the victims, we do not root for the sick motherfucker and the pain and carnage he/she/it is inflicting. Because we care so much about Roger and Tooth and their survival, I don't think The Summer I Died is torture porn. It's too emotional a story for that I think. We care too much."

What a perfect way of putting it, Trudi. By that definition, this is surely not torture porn as we are definitely not cheering for the bad guy. By the way, Skinny Guy is top 5 sickest mothers I have ever read about. Maybe #1.


Stephen Trudi wrote: "I loved The Strangers as well. That movie messed me up (but in a good way)."

Yes, especially the end...the emptiness of it all. *shiver*


Trudi If there is someone worse out there in the world of literature or in movies, I don't wanna know about it!


Trudi Stephen wrote: "Yes, especially the end...the emptiness of it all. *shiver*"

Why are you doing this? -Because you were home.

That line always makes my blood run cold.


Stephen Me too. That is exactly what gets me about the movie.


message 25: by Stephen (last edited Nov 18, 2011 04:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephen Trudi wrote: "If there is someone worse out there in the world of literature or in movies, I don't wanna know about it!"

I am thinking and I can not come up with anyone worse. If I do, I will let you know...once I stop screaming.


message 26: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Wow! One things for sure, I have no desire to read this book (and I love thrillers)! That being said, your review is one of the best I've ever read. Fantastic job, Stephen!


Stephen Kristen wrote: "Wow! One things for sure, I have no desire to read this book (and I love thrillers)! That being said, your review is one of the best I've ever read. Fantastic job, Stephen!"

Thanks, Kristen. That is very nice of you. I am pleased that you enjoyed it.


message 28: by Apatt (new)

Apatt I prefer supernatural horror with fangs, lots of oozing and tentacles but this one sounds good!


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Holy POOP Batman! Excellent review as always.


Stephen Wesley wrote: "Holy POOP Batman! Excellent review as always."

Thanks, Wesley.


message 31: by Lea (last edited Nov 18, 2011 11:20PM) (new)

Lea So torn, so torn!

I'm always getting myself into these predicaments -- I'm intrigued by these types of stories, but then haunted by the images in them. I'm still horrified by parts of American Psycho, and I honestly thought that book had a lot of things to say about American culture. Just soooo graphic.

Maybe I'll flip a coin . . .

Great review, as always!


EDIT: After reading other reviews (and reflecting on my recent reaction to reading Stephen King, LOL), I think I'll have to give this one a miss. Boo! But I'm just not gutsy enough!

Also, for any fans of the this genre -- have you checked out the film "Dale and Tucker vs. Evil"? Absolutely hysterical!


Stephen Thanks, Lea, and I completely understand about wanting to give this a pass. This review is as much a Public Service Announcement as an endorsement. Definitely not for the squeamish.


message 33: by Steve (new)

Steve I hear you on this. I'm probably like Lea. The American culture aspect is a draw (kind of like In Cold Blood, which is truly terrifying and brutal). But, for me at least, there is a line (just don't ask me to define it, I just know it when I read it). I love horror, but books like Off Season, or Rob Zombie movies, take me places I don't really want to go. Great review.


Stephen Thanks, Steve. I completely understand about that "hard to define" line. I can actually "read" more gruesome stories than I can watch. For example, I really liked Off Season but could not enjoy watching a Rob Zombie movie (or even an adaptation of Off Season if they did one).

Not sure why, but I dislike overly sadistic movies, but don't have the same leave of squeamish when it comes to books.


message 35: by Elke (new) - added it

Elke I will definitely read this book sometime thanks to this mouth-watering review!

However, I must strongly disagree with your movie comments:
- Saw: excellent first part, though the sequels are better left forgotten.

- Hostel: I will never understand why people found this movie so shocking. Imho it's Hollywood-style torture porn for the masses. After all that media hype I was disappointed how tame&lame this movie was. Try some European movies (e.g. the french High Tension) and you'll know what I mean. Ok, maybe not you Stephen ;)

- Strangers: left me completely indifferent, apart from the nerve-racking screaming (was it Liv Tyler?). Want to watch a real scary movie? Try Ils/Them (another remarkable french movie). No torture, no splatter, no shocking scenes, but creepy as hell.

Guess I got a bit carried away here, sorry...


Stephen Elke -

Great post. Thank you for the comments. You are right about the first Saw movie. That was a very good, suspensful thriller and I loved the ending. I was referring to the sequels which I only saw part of the first one and didn't like it.

I haven't actually seen Hostel and just did not have any desire to after seeing the trailer (beyond the slow down at car wrecks curiosity).

I have heard that the original French version of High Tension was extreme...I have not seen it.

I'm sorry you didn't like Strangers. It really hit me in the gut and I still think about certain seens from time to time.

IIS/Them looks intriguing. I will do some research. Thanks for the recommendation.


message 37: by Werner (new)

Werner Stephen, an excellent, informative, well-thought-out review, as always! (I'm one of those folks whose squeamish meter is shrieking like a police siren, so I'll pass on this one; but I think you did a great job of reviewing it.)


Stephen Thanks, Werner. Helping people steer clear from books they won't like is as important as helping them find those they will. I'm glad this was useful.


Trudi Stephen reading Elke's comment got me thinking about another movie that did my head in: uber-violent yet does not degenerate into torture porn -- Eden Lake -- I found this story so personal and so shockingly believable in every way. Highly recommended.


Stephen I just looked it up, Trudi. I think I might have to give it a go. Thanks for the heads up.


message 41: by Denae (new)

Denae Great review; never gonna read the book :)


Stephen Denae wrote: "Great review; never gonna read the book :)"

Thanks, Denae and I completely understand. This one is extreme.


message 43: by Molly (new) - added it

Molly Talbert Fantastic review! I'm insanely curious now!


message 44: by Camille (new)

Camille I quit reading the review. Was scared of what I might read. I'll try reading a few of the scary stuff in your lists first before I attempt to read this.


Stephen Molly wrote: "Fantastic review! I'm insanely curious now!"

It's a great book, Molly, but very, VERY disturbing. It will stick with you.


message 46: by Molly (new) - added it

Molly Talbert Yeah, that's my biggest problem with books like this. Oftentimes, I'm okay while reading them. But then they sneak back up on me when I least expect it. Thanks for the warning.


Stephen Molly wrote: "Yeah, that's my biggest problem with books like this. Oftentimes, I'm okay while reading them. But then they sneak back up on me when I least expect it. Thanks for the warning."

Your welcome, Molly. This one is definitely one that can sneak back up on you. Still, I loved the story.


Tressa Fantastic review.


message 49: by Danielle (new)

Danielle Pelino Its going to be a movie.... Aaaaghhhhhhh! I'm scared!


♥ Marlene♥ I am reading it right now and am near the end. 81% so I know how you suffered. bahahahaha. Then I read your review no I just looked at that baby and that made me laugh like a lunatic.


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