The Long Hot Summer
The Long Hot Summer is the second novel by Kathleen MacMahon, a television journalist from Ireland. It’s a beautifully written story, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse. Her prose is incredibly lush, and her powers of description are unlike anything I’ve encountered in quite some time. Unfortunately, all this beautiful writing tends to overwhelm the story she’s trying to tell.
Deirdre MacEntee is almost eighty years old, and definitely feeling her age. Her body is failing her in every conceivable way and she’s trying to make peace with this. She’s also struggling to remain in her home, a large, rambling house that is falling into disrepair. Deirdre isn’t terribly close to her children, as she was more devoted to her career on the stage than to them during their growing-up years. Only her youngest son Macdara really knows her, and this causes a great deal of conflict over the course of the novel.
Deirdre’s ex-husband Manus left the family some twenty years before the novel opens. He now lives with his younger male lover, but is trying to get back in touch with his children and grandchildren. He and Deirdre have kept in contact over the years, but the rest of the family has had very little to do with him.
Oldest daughter Alma is a reporter struggling to make it to the top of her field. She’s sacrificed her marriage on the altar of success, and her relationship with her daughter is quite antagonistic. Part of her admires Deirdre’s drive to succeed as an actress, but she can’t help but wish she’d been more of a mother figure. Alma harbors a great deal of disdain for her father, and sometimes feels practically like an orphan.
The novel is told in alternating chapters, giving each member of the MacEntee family a voice. This style was somewhat difficult to follow at times, given the fact we’re dealing with nine different narrators. We hear from every member of the family, even if their point of view isn’t truly necessary and I felt bogged down by all these perspectives. I wanted the story to be more clear cut.
You’re probably asking what this book is actually about. That’s not a terribly easy question to answer, as there really is no concrete story arc. Instead, we’re treated to a very close look at a series of events that impact the entire family and it’s the varied reactions to these events that really drive the novel forward. This is not a plot-heavy piece of fiction. Instead, the reader is meant to rely on the complex cast of characters to draw them into the story.
Some readers have referred to The Long Hot Summer as a family saga. Normally, when I think of such a thing, something with a bit more action and a little less deep insight comes to my mind. This is a book that is supposed to evoke deep and visceral reactions from its readers, but it didn’t really do that for me. Several of the characters seemed rather two-dimensional, and I struggled to find their humanity. Macdara, for example, is written as far too perfect a man to be believed, while his mother is depicted as extremely self-centered, with no goodness to redeem her. I prefer characters with more depth.
With all that said, this isn’t a bad book and I found myself enjoying parts of it. I loved Alma’s daughters, whose strong wills and tenacity made them seem like real people. I also found the end of the novel to be quite satisfying. I just wished there hadn’t been so much of everything (characters, description, flowery prose). The Long Hot Summer would have been a lot easier to read if it had been fifty to seventy-five pages shorter.