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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Hustvedt is a witness to the environment she inhabits, painfully turning on the spit of her own intelligence, alternately warmed and charred by a world that either validates or inflicts. After thirty years of marriage, Mia Fredrickson's husband, Boris, wants a break (a "pause": read "other woman"). After a short psychiatric hospitalization (a "pause" of her own), Mia slips into a self-described "yawn between Crazed Winter and Sane Fall", renting a cottage in Minnesota, where her mother is ensconced in independent living quarters with other such elderly travelers on their final journey, a group Mia calls "the Five Swans". Ever practical, Mia commits to an intimate poetry class with seven thirteen-year-old girls, "my informed little broads with their sadistic pleasures, the envy they sweated from their pores and their shocking lack of empathy". There is respite to be found in classroom and ladies' circle, as well as friendship with her neighbors, Lola, four-year-old Flora (sporting a Harpo Marx-like curly wig), and baby Simon. Such distractions are insufficient to contain Mia's misery or stifle nighttime sobs.

On a mission of self-appraisal, Mia is booted from domestic security to the charged rooms of the elderly friends, from Georgiana, 102, to the physically-twisted, yet sharply intelligent Abigail, 94, who stitches hidden pornography into her intricate pieces, an old woman's small rebellion against the conventions of her generation. The Five Swans view Mia as a baby, their wisdom honed of strength, endurance and abiding friendships: "In a place like this, many people aren't touched enough." Drifting between worlds, between lives, Mia is prone to bursts of anger, grief, cathartic verse and a profound appreciation of what it means to be female. Men exist only peripherally in this place- at least temporarily- Mia exploring the uncharted territory of feminine identity and its elastic boundaries, an immeasurable capacity for love and its opposite, rage.

From teenagers juggling with early-onset adolescent angst, the atavistic urges of tribe and the meaning of compassion to a young family struggling with its imperfections and the elderly women who prepare to relinquish all, Mia is the conduit, too intelligent to lie to herself, chronically vigilant and immersed in the wonders of language as a palliative to distress, finely tuned to the intimate moments of daily perception, self-love vs. self-recrimination and the burden of her sex. One never escapes Hustvedt's work unscathed, brutal honesty ameliorated by a magical turn of phrase or poignant insight, like swallowing tiny bits of broken glass, washed down with the clear broth of truth and no hint of bitterness: "We all smell of mortality. Perhaps there is nothing we can do but burst into song." Luan Gaines/2011.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Mia Frederickson, an award-winning poet in midlife, tumbles into a temporary madness when her neuroscientist husband Boris surprises her with his request for a marital pause. The pause, of course, "was French with limp but shiny brown hair" and "significant breasts that were real."

So starts this mordant comedy from Siri Hustvedt, a novelist of considerable talent. Mia finds herself eventually caught between a continuum of women -her mother and the other octogenarian widows whom she promptly dubs "the five swans" on one end, and the seven catty adolescent girls who compose her poetry class on the other.

As Mia gingerly and then firmly enters her "summer without men", she strives to emerge from the overbearing shadow of Boris, whose "pause", predictably, is not much more than that. It's a good conceit but somehow, it just doesn't come together.

The consortium of women are difficult to keep straight. The young girls never emerge as individuals (with one exception); the whole really is bigger than the sum of the parts. Ditto for the "five swans", who all seem to be part of one big geriatric "whole." There are some scenes that shine; for example, Abigail, one of the elderly women, reveals embroideries that are actually private amusements, little scenes within scenes. "They don't see it, you know," Abigail stroked a hearing aid cord as she tilted her head. "Most of them. They see only when they expect to see, sugar, not spice, if you comprehend my meaning."

Unfortunately, though, for this reader, those scenes were few, although the good ones are worth their weight in gold. Certainly, I applaud the risks Siri Hustvedt takes in inserting good-and-bad poetry, quirky drawings, literary allusions, scientific findings, even Cary Grant/Irene Dunne screenplay dialogue and epistolary communications. There are some wonderfully perceptive insights into the difficulty of aging and the sameness and difference between the genders, as well as the ways women relate as wives, daughters, mothers, friends and teachers. All of this confirms Ms. Hustvedt's place as a fine writer.

Yet while revelatory and even provocative, the writing seems just a bit too self-conscious as if the author is striving a little too hard. There is not a two-dimensional quality in Mia (an anagram for "I am"), the off-stage Boris, or the other leading characters. there is a distancing quality that never allowed me to embrace Mia or her plight. I was primed to like The Summer Without Men, but in the end, simply could not suspend belief.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2011
I love Siri Hustverdt's use of the English language. There is a richness and a depth to her writing style, but unfortunately I found the story without depth and I had great difficulty in finishing it. The cover gave me the impression that there would be a good exploration of the protagonist and where she finds herself on her journey of discovering how best to deal with the dilemma she finds herself in. This really doesn't happen and I found myself wondering when is she going to start digging into her own psyche to see what could be discovered about herself. It seemed superficial with really no insight into herself or the characters around her, that is the young girls she was teaching for the summer. Dr Gunta Krumins-Caldwell author of On Silver Wings
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 2, 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
After 30 years of marriage Mia's life is altered when her husband Boris decides to take a "pause" from their marriage and pursue another relationship. Consequently, Mia experiences a temporary psychological breakdown that prompts her to evaluate her life. In an effort to find herself, she returns to her hometown and begins teaching a poetry class to a group of local teen girls. Throughout the story, the author introduces us to other characters with stories of their own- Mia's friend who lives with an abusive husband, a group of elderly women that share small parts of their lives, and a group of teenage girls coping with peer pressures and teenage confusion. Unfortunately, although some of these story lines could have made the book more interesting, none of the stories and characters are fully explored, so I was left not really caring about any of the characters. I think the author tried to tell too many stories without developing the main story to its fullest potential. The story idea is interesting, but the main character was not developed enough to capture and keep my attention.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2011
The Summer Without Men is the story of Mia, a middle-aged poet, who literally goes insane when her husband of thirty years tells her he's leaving her for a younger woman. After her temporary insanity has subsided, Mia retreats to an elder community to recuperate in the loving presence of her mother. Her mother is part of a group of elderly women, the Swans, who range in age from 84 to 102. Mia basks in their affectionate attention. She also makes an acquaintance with a young mother and teaches a poetry class to budding teenaged girls. The novel is a reflection of the stages of womanhood, "maiden, mother, crone," as Mia puts it. It's as much about joy as it is about the loss of youth, loved ones, and our illusions about life and the people we share it with. The book also includes a digressive screed against gender bias in brain studies that this reader appreciated: "Our superior `verbal skills,' if we follow the professor's own logic, explain why women have dominated the literary arts for so long, nary a man in sight."--The sarcasm here is a bit too sharp for a laugh. I also appreciated this throwing down of the literary gauntlet: "No immersion in the history of philosophy is needed for me to insist that there are NO RULES in art, and there is no ground under the feet of the Nitwits and Buffoons who think that there are rules and laws and forbidden territories..." I don't often mention cover art in a review, but this book's simple, bright yellow cover captured my eye immediately, and it seems to capture the tone of the book perfectly. A lot in this book made me smile. Hustvedt's sense of humor is on fine display, but it was the following passage that turned me to goo,

"I want to tell you, Gentle Person out there, that if you are here with me now, on the page, I mean, if you have come to this paragraph, if you have not given up and sent me, Mia, flying across the room...I want to reach out for you and take your face in both my hands and cover you with kisses, kisses on your cheeks and chin and all over your forehead and one on the bridge of your (variously shaped) nose, because I am yours, all yours."

We all write for love. And read for love, too.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 19, 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I looked forward to reading this novel, having read Hustvedt's "The Blindfold" many years ago and being aware of her other novels and her longtime marriage to Paul Auster. However, I was disappointed by her latest work. "The Summer Without Men" is high-brow chick-lit for the Oprah crowd. I read an interview with her in the latest Poets and Writers Magazine in which she described how this book "just flew out of her" thanks to therapy, which she had long resisted. As a result, the book is very easy to read, breezily written but not particularly reflective though sprinkled with literary allusions and forays into the "how men are different from women" argument. The premise is simple: a neurotic, successful poet and teacher has a mental breakdown and temporary psychotic episode after her husband, Boris (code: boor) asks for a "Pause" in their 30 year old marriage so that he can pursue a younger, brunette mistress. Yes, a woman scorned is the topic of hundreds of novels but Hustvedt does not offer any insights or originality into this cliched situation. For a woman recovering from a mental illness, she is always erudite, logical and not particularly imaginative in her use of language. There is a lack of tension - very little happens, but you are supposed to empathize with the protagnist's self-soothing philosophizing and world-weariness. We even get laudatory notes from her darling students testifying to her supposed excellence as a teacher (though her skills are never shown) and little drawings that, if anything, testify to the narrator's narcissism and inflated view of herself. As if this wasn't tepid enough, we get snippets of her pedestrian conversations with her therapist, in which she analyzes herself once more. Worse is her depiction of her students, a mass of indistinguishable young girls who seem to function more as a sort of groupie/Greek chorus. Though the novel has many well-written passages (especially on the subject of marriage), I didn't care about the narrator or her relationship with Boris and just came away bored.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 14, 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have been a fan of Siri Hustvedt since her amazing novel, What I Loved, which I loved. But since then, she has not attained the heights that novel reached. Unfortunately.

Mia has it all -- a PhD in comp lit, a job at Columbia, a reputation as a published, award winning poet. And yet, her husband's defection into the arms of a younger woman, a colleague with a good brain and limp shiny hair, sends Mia into a tailspin. This is the stuff of chicklit at its most self absorbent. As tht\e title infers, there are no men in this book any more than there are any inhabiting Mia's summer. She flees to her childhood home to be near her mother who is happily seeing out her years in an assisted living facility that sounds almost idyllic. The town of Bordon Minnesota seems to have more life going on than Mia's current home of Brooklyn, more opportunities for female bonding that occur immediately. Each aspect of Mia's life is fraught with promise. Her mother's five best friends are each representative of a type, the neighbor next door has a 3 year old that shows more promise than most, the seven teen aged students in her poetry seminar -- each environment is a hotbed of female cliche. What gives this book its originality is that there is some truly gorgeous writing here, even if not all of it is from Mia herself but from some of her idols in literature. I did enjoy this to a certain degree, but wish it had had more meat on its bones.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2011
A depressed poetry teacher in her 50s recovering from a psychotic, shattered response to her neuroscientist husband's adultery spends the summer of 2009 living alone in a small town in Minnesota, where she visits her 90-year-old mother and her mother's companions and book club friends in a retirement home, teaches writing to 6 troubled girls, shares the drama of a family with 2 small children who live next door to her, receives welcome visits from her sister and her daughter, and attends a funeral at which her mother delivers the eulogy. Shards of narrative bump along in the style of a diary, with interpolated email, poems, addresses to the reader, quotations of Stanley Cavell, Freud, Kierkegaard, Derrida et al., and meditations on time, literary and brain-science theories, fantasy, marriage, sexuality, art, and how people, situations and the sexes are alike and different. Thinking through the phases of a woman's life and defining what separates and unites women, and ditto women and men, seem to be the main preoccupations of this far-from-smooth-sailing (2011) novel, which has the advantage of being short. The film THE AWFUL TRUTH is a leitmotif in the book. What saves a marriage, says the narrator, is the time a couple has spent with each other.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2011
According to the London Observer, Siri Hustvedt's "skill lies in convincing the reader that we have seen right inside someone's soul." I have little more to ad, other than to say that the joy and sadness of entering the souls of these intensively real characters is why I read, and this novel is exemplary of why Ms. Hustvedt is one of my favorite authors.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 12, 2011
Reading this book felt like following the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a smart, but uninteresting person. The plot sounded promising. After her husband leaves her poet Mia cracks, spends a year recovering in a psychiatric hospital, and finally moves back to Iowa to live near her aging mother. Yet, there's something about this book that simply didn't connect with me. At the end of the book I felt as if nothing had happened. And yet, so much happens in this book, but events are subsumed by Mia's musing which are simply not very interesting. Mia would be fodder for people who think that academics aren't very interesting (and I'm an academic- I know that some of us are interesting!) This is a short book, but it took me some time to get through, as I could only handle small bits at a time.
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