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Windchill Summer: A Novel Hardcover – June 6, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

In Norris Church Mailer's debut, the muggy summer heat of Sweet Valley, Arkansas, mingles with an acrid smell of vinegar and onions at its pickling plant. An engaging, richly painted coming-of-age novel set in the late 1960s, Windchill Summer portrays the exploration and confusion of the times through a group of small-town friends caught up in a big-time web of intrigue and murder. Cherry Marshall has just turned 21 and is preparing for her final year of college when her sheltered existence is turned upside down by the murder of a high school friend. Until the discovery of Carlene's drowned body, life for Cherry had been an easy mix of university art studies, thrice-weekly meetings of the First Apostolic Holiness Church of God (part of the "real Don't religion" you would expect to find in an alcohol-dry Arkansas county), and summer jobs spent pickling cucumbers with her best friend, Baby, a Southern-assimilated Filipino, or "Filbilly." But Carlene's murder kicks off a summer of strange events and even stranger revelations. And as the craziness of the Vietnam War and the haziness of hippie-living begin to seep into Sweet Valley life, Cherry finds a whole new world taking shape around and within her: "I felt an excitement like the pioneers must have felt, knowing they were starting a whole new way of life." The territory she plows isn't quite so virgin, mind you, and many lives are wrecked, transformed, and renewed before the book's climax.

Mailer captures the tone of her young characters, and she writes revealingly of the pull and power of secrets and hypocrisy, of the few options and desperate choices of those caught on the underside of "proper" society. While Cherry tells her tale in the first-person voice, her friends' stories are relayed through Mailer's omniscient third-person voice. This double narrative is somewhat awkward, but the author's expressive style makes up for the oddity. She describes Carlene as a child who had been "prickly and serious, sturdy and pale, with freckles sprinkled on her skin like nutmeg on eggnog," and she tells the story of the local embalmer's wife who, before she died, had Polaroids taken of herself "lying down in various coffins and outfits until she decided on the one she liked. At the funeral, everyone said she had never looked better." Readers will inevitably look for the influence of the author's husband, but this half of the duo tells a captivating story in a voice all her own. --S. Ketchum

From Publishers Weekly

The breezy, lighthearted tone of this debut novel immediately captures the reader's attention, but its guilelessness conceals a sophisticated, multifaceted evocation of the consequences of the Vietnam War, played out in the small town of Sweet Valley, Ark. What Cherry and her best friend, Baby, assume will be an ordinary summer before their senior year at college in 1969 veers abruptly off-course when a childhood friend, Carlene, is found beaten and drowned in the local lake. Everyday life lurches, then ambles on: at night, Cherry and Baby earn pocket money by peeling onions at the pickle plant, where Cherry meets Tripp, a Vietnam veteran who hails from Berkeley and who introduces her to all that name implies. Cherry develops a healthy doubt about the fire-and-brimstone faith in which she was raised ("It was scary how good I was getting at sin"). She also gradually comes to understand the way Carlene's murder has shaken the town, a place already shocked by the return from Vietnam of irrevocably altered hometown boys and haunted by those who didn't come back, like Carlene's ex-boyfriend, Jerry. Viewpoints intricately intermingled give voice to the thoughts, emotions and many secrets of a variety of compelling characters, through depictions of Baby and her family, the only Filipinos in Sweet Valley; throughflashbacks to Carlene's tumultuous childhood; through letters that Carlene and Jerry exchanged during the war. These many perspectives reveal one secret after another, and only the reader is privy to the network of enigmatic deceptions as a whole. Cherry's irresistible voice balances the story: each time the horrors of Vietnam (or of Sweet Valley's underbelly) invade, Cherry's vivacity fends them off, although her own path is rocky. In the end, the author (Norman Mailer's wife) makes her characters take the tough road, and her accomplished, bittersweet novel proves that they are hardy, resilient, and complex enough for a journey that readers will enjoy every step of the way. 12-city author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (June 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375503196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375503191
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,915,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Windchill Summer should be read by everyone who likes to know characters in an intimate way. They are described to the reader in fine detail and whether you like them or not, you cannot help but realized that within each of them, there too lies a piece of yourself. The setting of the story - Sweet Valley, Arkansas and Vietnam - is detailed in intimate detail as well. Sweet Valley in 1969 is a place of southern serenity yet it too is capable of displaying the dark side of humanity. In 1969 Vietnam, Norris Church Mailer has written of the horrors of a war in which no one should forget. At times I felt she could have left a few details out. However, I needed to be reminded of the horrible atrocities that took place.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Denise Bentley on October 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Windchill Summer takes place in Arkansas during the Viet Nam era. As Mailer spins her tail she allows the characters to voice their perspective by presenting each chapter in the words of someone different, allowing the story to slowly unfold. One of the characters is found dead along the way and that adds a bit of mystery. The author very cleverly goes back in time allowing even the dead to present their story. Most important of all she does this with such skill that it is never confusing. Mailer's transition between times and characters is smooth and effortless. Her characters are steeped in their values and misconceptions about religion, the war and each other. Characters that are so real and complete that you feel like they are your personal friends. By the end we know the whole story while some of the main characters will never know everything that we have seen through other peoples eyes. Mailer has weaved an incredible tapestry about life in a small southern town that brings us back to Viet Nam for glimpses of the "My Lai Massacre" under the command of Lt. Cally, the Viet Cong, and the frailty of the killing machines that used to be the boys next door. The portrayal of Mailer's characters is so well done that I hated to leave them behind on the pages of her book.....Kelsana
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Martha L. Thomases on July 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There has been so much revisionist history about the 1960s -- and especially the anti-war movement -- that it's refreshing to read a book that feels right. Mailer nails the tumult and joy and confusion and fear that marked the era.
She also has a wonderful sense of place and character. After reading this book, I know what it feels like to be tall, thin and Southern, even though I'm not.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Barbara on March 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to believe that this book is not a best seller. I have read most of Oprah's Book Club books and this one is as good as or maybe even better than most of them. There's the suppressed women jobs of working in a pickle factory for a terrible boss. There is the lecturous older men praying on the young girls tricking them to allow him to take porno pictures. There's the teens and young adults that are struggling with life and their religious upbringing. There's the headshops, smoking pot, drag racing, psychedelic art, mini skirts, guys beginning to wear their hair long, long straight hair on the girls, Volkswagens, the Vietnam war and alot of other "happenings" that tags the time of this story to the turbulent '60s. This author mentions places in Vietnam as well as situations and she is right on the money. I can't praise this book enough. If you like Oprah's Picks or relationship sagas, you will most assuredly devour this book. I graduated from high school in '69 and my husband served in the Army during the Vietnam war and served 1 1/2 years in the jungles in Vietnam and this book helped me to understand some of the things he witnessed and lived through. Believe it or not, this book is fun at times and fast paced. It's such an easy book to stay interested in and involved in because there are so many different things going on and tied together by a mystery, of sorts. The ending is out-a-sight, to use a '60s term. Pick this book up and read it. It's SO good. I just can't believe it's not promoted more by someone, if not Oprah. It's EXCELLENT.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Budd on January 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Windchill Summer is a novel that is both engaging and descriptive. Norris Church Mailer is highly skilled at setting the scenes through her words that leave vivid images with her readers. As a reader that did not live during the 60's free love and peace protests, Windchill Summer took me there to experience the mood and events of the era.
Two best friends, Cherry and Baby will experience the summer they will never forget. Cherry, by most accounts is an innocent. She is active with her family church - First Apostolic Holiness Church of God, and has experienced little distress in her idyllic life. Baby, a Filipino, who often feels disconnected, is vastly different from Cherry. She has experienced numerous relationships and is a keeper of secrets.
The murder of a local girl, Carlene, and the arrival of a mysterious guy, Tripp, will turn Cherry's world in ways that she could not have imagined. Windchill Summer examines the summer's events through Cherry's first-person account. In addition, the reader gains the perspective of a variety of supporting voices from the Sweet Valley town.
Windchill Summer is a coming of age novel packed with growth and numerous life lessons for its cast. Truly, a captivating read, I anticipate further great work by Norris Church Mailer.
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