cover image Summer Brother

Summer Brother

Jaap Robben, trans. from the Dutch by David Doherty. World Editions, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-64286-070-2

A teenager’s life is upended by the unexpected return home of his disabled brother in this unsettling novel from Dutch writer Robben (You Have Me to Love). Brian Chevalier, 13, lives in a ramshackle trailer with his underemployed father, Maurice. His older brother, Lucien, who has unspecified congenital disability, has been living in a group home, until Maurice accepts a subsidy to take care of Lucien and saddles Brian with all the work while he leaves for long, unexplained chunks of time. With the help of neighbor Emile, squeamish and impatient Brian tries his best. He also risks Lucien’s safety, tying him to a bed so he can leave to visit Selma, a 19-year-old resident of Lucien’s home, who encourages Brian to sexually experiment with her. As Maurice’s shady, threatening landlords pressure him to pay off debts and Brian’s new school year approaches, Brian and Lucien’s concerned mother, from whom Maurice is estranged, brings the tenuous situation to a head. Flashbacks explain the disintegration of Brian’s family and his conflicted feelings about his brother, though the distressing treatment of the disabled characters feels oddly gratuitous. Robben’s tragic tale of generational dysfunction muddies the waters to inscrutable effect. (Feb.)