cover image How To Survive a Summer

How To Survive a Summer

Nick White. Blue Rider, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-57368-2

Will, a likeable, awkward academic plodding through life and his dissertation, was forced to attend an evangelical gay-conversion summer camp in Mississippi during his adolescence. When a fellow camper’s memoir based on the experience is turned into a kitschy, possibly homophobic horror film, Will takes an emergency leave from his unfulfilling adult life to confront his past. While it’s evident that something tragic happened at the camp, the specifics are not revealed until the end of the book. The result is writing that’s largely diffuse and slow rather than suspenseful. By contrast, the strongest passages are those set during Will’s early childhood with his preacher father, whose shock at seeing his son shimmy in the church choir creates a tension between them from which neither will recover. Captivating, too, is the fact that Will’s aunt, the mystifying Mother Maude, ran the conversion camp with her deranged, abusive husband, but that her intentions stemmed from a more personal reason than just wanting the boys to avoid an “abomination.” Though the story takes too long to get where it’s going, these threads are clear and moving, revealing White’s talent in evoking the complexities of the rural South. Agent: Noah Ballard, Curtis Brown. (June)