Written by: Matt Molgaard
I did it. I judged a book by its cover. Scott Weaver’s, The Damned Summer landed in my lap sometime back, and I immediately knew this was going to be a masterpiece. With a cover as magnetic as this one, how could it be anything other than a homerun, right? How wrong I was. I really wanted to enjoy the novel (okay, I really, really wanted to enjoy this one!), it looks and sounds refreshing. There are no vampires stalking the shadows, the hordes of zombies everyone is trying to stuff down my throat aren’t exactly cluttering the page. But the truth is, there’s not much here to really dig on.
The story is really just a good old fashioned “good versus evil” tale, and it could have been highly engaging, but it gets so murky it’s easy to completely lose track of why we’re reading the novel at all, let alone attempting to care about any form of conflict. The action unravels in Storm, Illinois, but it isn’t hard to forget that, as this little town receives nearly no push as a character itself, and when you’ve got a supposed epic battle brewing, the locale should certainly function as a memorable unit. But it doesn’t, and virtually every character blends into one another due to the fact that Weaver has trouble delivering a smooth narrative. Scott doesn’t paint a picture at all here, but simply… tells readers what’s going on. There’s a big difference between something like, say, the clouds swelled under the moon’s soft fluorescent mask. Heavy with the lord’s tears, cumulus threatened to empty her heart, and The weather was bad, it was going to rain. But the latter is what we get. It’s drab, slow moving and tough to juggle in the eye of the imagination because it feels as though little imaginary work went into the assembly of the story.
There’s a good idea buried in these pages, but it’s just never afforded the freedom to breathe, and it’s anchored by clunky writing and awkward mishaps, completely limited by Weaver’s perceived inexperience. I can open the novel right now, turn to a random page and pull out at least a single example of shaky writing. In fact, I’m going to… page 158: …as the road straightened out, allowing him to take the can out of his mouth, which was followed by a coughing fit from the unprepared beer that had flowed down his mouth. That doesn’t read like a smooth, descriptive sentence to me in the slightest. What’s an unprepared beer? Does it flow down his mouth, or his esophagus? And keep in mind here, that’s quite literally the first paragraph of a random page. As for those offbeat mishaps, here’s a single example: early in the novel a flask suddenly becomes a bottle, before once more being referenced as a flask. Huge deal? No. But an issue all the same. A flask and a bottle are two entirely different things. That reads like someone who has read life (and gotten comfortable using Word’s synonym tool), rather than living it. There are many different layers of research, and sometimes you just can’t get the info you need out of a book, or on google. Sometimes, if you aim to write big, you’ve got to cover all the proper preparatory bases in order to do so.
Weaver’s, The Damned Summer feels more like a loose first draft than a final, prepped for publication story. Subplots suddenly end, too many characters are introduced and no one specific element strikes as a fully fleshed out concept. There are a lot of starts and very few finishes to find here. Weaver’s pretty solid with dialogue, but you can’t expect dialogue alone to support a 350 page novel. It doesn’t quite work that way. I’d love to read a finalized version of this story, but we’re not privy to that. What we’re afforded is the beginning of a potentially entertaining story, thrust into our lap a solid 100 hours worth of work shy of completion.
I’m bummed to say all this, because, again, I was really rooting for this one, but The Damned Summer is more rushed product than anything else. From the outside in the novel appears amazing. Fantastic cover, intriguing synopsis… completely underwhelming content within the pages. A missed opportunity, The Damned Summer will break your heart, for all the wrong reasons. But I want it known that I’ve been completely honest (and admittedly unforgiving) here for an important reason, if Weaver is to improve as an author (I have no doubt he can), he needs to hear the good with the bad. He needs an honest voice to step up and say no, this just doesn’t work, and this is why. I never aim to be that voice, but I hope my breakdown will help the man in his future endeavors. There’s nothing I’d like to see more than Weaver bounce back with an insanely good novel. The novel that The Damned Summer could have been.
You can give this one a go by picking it up here. Perhaps I’m way off in my assessment and you’d be happy putting me in my place…