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Pame la Bec ke r the various losses and threats that the young Ricky will have to worry about that hot, dry summer unfold slowly and indirectly through the surface scrapping that makes up the texture of farm family life, even in its monopoly games; Carol acted like she was going to kiss Gerald, and he nearly fell off the bed. Rebecca laughed in that way she had. It was a high fast laugh, and it always made me laugh to hear it. “Come on,” I said. “Where’s the money, Banker?” “I’d get it if I could keep this whore off me.” Carol slapped Gerald in the side and I was glad. “You’d better watch it,” she said. Fleming’s ear for dialogue and eye for characterrevealing actions are extremely acute. Reported through the spare, declarative sentences of Ricky’s ten-year-old voice, phrases and patterns are recycled until we know these people like our own siblings. Gerald, Ricky’s older brother, whose mean streak keeps the entire family on edge, is always making “pooty” noises, plaguing Ricky by calling him “queer,” not keeping his dirty feet off the beds. His 18-year-old sister, Carol, bursting with unused sexual energy, pets on Ricky until he adores her, then cannot explain away her “betrayal” with a boyfriend. THE RELATIONSHIPS between the children and their parents, relatives and neighbors, individ ually and collectively, are as real as weather, and constantly impel the novel forward while setting it solidly in a time and place. Down the road at the dusty, flyblown store, Mr. Norman lets the boys work the cash register and gives them advice on life and drouth along with their orange Nehi’s. Ricky’s fascination for the hot-tempered, big-boned German neighbor and his hallucinating wife takes us into their highly-ordered, if disrupted, home. A Mexican migrant worker’s bilingual cussing ability is one of several traits the cocky Gerald finds to admire and imitate. Perhaps’ the most intriguing portrait in the book is that of the little neighbor girl, Rebecca, whose relationship with Ricky is as moving as any adult love story. Their honest vulnerability and interdependence in the face of adult insensitivity \(her parents ignore her, uproot her, and then stand by like strates keenly the impassable chasm between adult and child cultures. But when the bond between Ricky and Rebecca skids into a wall of silence we see how fragile human trust can become even among peers. Ricky’s third desertion comes from Gerald \(my nomination for the most fully realized character in Southwest ested in growing up \(his wooing of the trashy daughter of a malevolent neighin “playing kid’s games just to keep your stupid face happy.” Left to his own devices, Ricky has time not only to tongue his aches but to sense the fomenting evil in the unbreaking weather and in the surrounding neighborhood, time to stumble on a Snopeslike murder and to carry the burden of silence that imposes. Fleming’s remarkable empathy with child trauma, his understanding of the way it operates by indirection, by displacement, is as strong as his ability to evoke jarringly real characters. He uses both to bring all ‘the plot strands together in a climax that brings even Gerald into line. The bumps and starts of maneuvering this plot through its slowly shifting psychological changes may annoy the reader accustomed to well-paced climatic builds. At times there is a “toomuchness,” especially of thematically parallel events. But despite its homegrown, ‘first novel’ faults, perhaps somehow even because of them, Summertime is a haunting book. Its author seems to be blessed With a certain farm-bred integrity that won’t be satisfied until the truth has been hauled up to the surface and pinned to the page. And maybe that goes a long way towards explaining why Summertime is causing such a stir. Serve it up how you will, truth never seems to go out of fashion. 1 6 JULY 17, 1987