Even before I had a copy of any book by Siri Hustvedt, I was already keen on liking her prose mainly because Bennard said I would love her. Which, for all I know, is a contrived effort to make Hustvedt my new favorite author--Hustvedt that is wife to Paul Auster, one of Bennard's favorites. Well, planned or not, it appears that he is right. I loved Hustvedt instantly, the love-at-first-few-pages kind.Aside from being my first novel by new favorite author, The Summer Without Men is also my first contemporary feminist book. And a memorable one at that. The characters are mainly women--Mia the Awesome Protagonist, the Swans in Rolling Meadows, the teen witches of Bonden, Lola the Neighbor-turned-Friend, Bea the Tough Sister, and Daisy the Lively Daughter. Even psychiatrist Dr. S. is a female! They were not portrayed as perfect, all-knowing, and righteous--it wouldn't be realistic if they were, and I would've disliked the book if such was the case--but as strong personalities who accepted life's blows and dealt with them in ways they know best. Men were present in the story too, but they are more of a backdrop, appearing in recollections, letters, and in the periphery. In this book, men were depicted as both the storm and the cooling rain. The storm that some women must weather through in order to be stronger, wiser. The cooling rain that soothes and comforts, the reason for a smile.
Siri Hustvedt gets me. On how exactly, I am fumbling to figure out.
Maybe it's because of Mia Fredricksen's sense of humor and her use of capital letters/proper nouns to address people, even herself. She can be self-deprecating, and this knowledge of her flaws makes her ridiculing of other characters, like Boris or the Pause, acceptable. Heck, she was betrayed, resulting to brief psychosis, so she had every right to "eviscerate them in fiction." Despite all these hurts she endured and the slow process she underwent to recover, Boris, "the wayward husband," remained dear to her and passed on this contagious feeling to me, the Reader. At the end of the day, I still rooted for them to get back together. The wooing back part was minimalist in words, and yet I found myself stifling giggles as if what I am reading is a chick lit for teens instead of an extinguished-and-reignited love story of a middle-aged couple.
Maybe it's the numerous subtopics included in the book. These were meant to be Mia's diversions, her observations, her memories and internal conflicts. And yet, I was permitted to eavesdrop. Brilliant Hustvedt also used this to air her own thoughts. On philosophy, poetry, psychology, and evolution. On the prevalent mediocrity and perverse anti-intellectual culture. On vulnerability of childhood and fragility of old age. Even on sex and seduction. Mia tackled all these succinctly. She didn't dwell, but she also gave resolutions to all. Well, at least for me there was closure. What I got by the end of the book was way more that what I signed up for. So yeah, Zeitgeist fulfilled!
Maybe it's her style, in general. Her tone, her choice of words, her brevity and yet vivid imagery. Or her characters? Yes, her colorful characters and the way I could relate with some of them as if they too had been living my life all along. It's also her unpredictability. You might disagree with me and tell me that there are quite a handful of other writers who can outclass Hustvedt if only in terms of this criterion, but do know that I haven't read a lot of books yet. Let us leave this as my first discovery.
Siri Hustvedt gets me. On how exactly? You got your answer. This review of The Summer Without Men should be more aptly titled Siri Hustvedt Appreciation Post.