Yesterday I finished the short novel entitled Farewell, Summer, written by Helen Hooven Santmyer. This was her last novel and it was published posthumously in 1988, two years after her death. The story is about a young woman named Elizabeth who returns to the small Ohio town of her childhood. While back home she relives the preadolescent crush she had on a young man, Steve, from Texas, and she recalls her eleven-year-old jealousy and helplessness when Steve falls in love with a teenager his own age, Damaris.
Elizabeth returns home to the fictional town of Sunbury thirty years after her schoolgirl crush. It was in 1905 that she fell in love with the rodeo-riding Texan. Now maybe this was the stuff of small towns or maybe the stuff of a century ago, but as it turns out Steve and Elizabeth and Damaris are all cousins. The idea of first cousins or even second cousins falling in love with one another seems all too creepy to me. This was common in the 1800’s as I do recall somewhat incestuous pairings-up in pioneer dramas, but in 1905? In small-town Ohio?
I found the funniest moments reading about demented cousin Tobias, known as either “Bias” or “Tobe”, and his futile search trying to recall where he buried one thousand dollars in gold coins. Nobody in the novel wants to hire him for odd-job yard work since he always ends up skiving and digging up their property.
Santmyer once again evokes the feeling of “being there”. This is a comment I read often as I research her work and seek published book reviews. I am among the crickets and the neglected grass that tickles the ankles. I can see the fireflies buzzing around when I read of the evening walks Steve and Damaris embark upon. I can hear the sound of young Elizabeth rollerskating across the pavement, clack-clacking everytime she crosses a pavement crack.
There is one more novel in the Santmyer oeuvre; I started reading it today and have already fallen in love with it.