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The Summer Without Men: A Novel Paperback – April 26, 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A theatrically manic poet turns heartbreak into an intellectual endeavor in Hustvedt's intellectually spry latest (after The Sorrows of an American). Fresh out of the hospital at age 55 following a breakdown brought on by her husband's departure for a young colleague referred to as "The Pause," award-winning poet and Columbia professor Mia Fredricksen flees Brooklyn to spend the summer in her Minnesota hometown. There she is in the company of her mother and four other feisty old ladies, the young mother next door, and the seven hormone-addled pubescent girls enrolled in her poetry class at the local arts guild. Mia sorts out her agony as only a scorned woman with a Ph.D. in comparative literature can—by pouring it through a sieve of poets, philosophers, and critical theorists. At times these references eclipse the presence of the narrator herself, but even this absence becomes the basis for philosophical rumination, as Mia corresponds online with the anonymous—and at times abusive—Mr. Nobody. Though initially trapped in a claustrophobic cerebral solitude, Mia opens up, and, in so doing, lets in some much needed air to a constricted narrative, so that instead of being another novel of a woman on the brink, this becomes an adroit take on love, men and women, and girls and women. (May)
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“Exuberant… A lighter, more lilting meditation on men and women, released in perfect time for summer reading… Hustvedt is a fearless writer… The reward for readers comes in the sheer intelligence of her prose… There is terrific writing here, mulling the gifts and limits of art, sex, marriage, but the touch is emphatically light… She's managed not to shrink the truth of women's lives, without relinquishing love for men.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

“Siri Hustvedt's engaging first novel…is a fragmented meditation on identity, abandonment, and loss. Multiple forms of prose pepper the narrative: poems, letters, e-mails, journal entries, and quotes from a raft of well-known scholars, scientists, and writers … Hustvedt manages to move seamlessly between Blake and Rilke to Kierkegaard and Hegel while maintaining a forward motion to this fluid narrative… Satsifying.” ―Boston Globe

“Elegant… a smart and surprisingly amusing meditation on love, friendship and sexual politics.” ―The Miami Herald

“An investigation into romantic comedy, both the classic Hollywood version―‘love as verbal war’―and Jane Austen’s Persuasion… Among the novel’s pleasures are its analysis of gender…and the character of Mia herself, who comes across as honest, witty and empathetic.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“This brisk, ebullient novel is a potpourri of poems, diary entries, emails and quicksilver self-analysis... The noisy chorus in Mia's head has an appealing way of getting inside the reader's too.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“A mesmerizing and powerful meditation on marriage, the differences between the sexes, aging and what it means to be a woman…. Truly breathtaking… Rich with both the pleasures and sorrows that make life complete, this is a powerful and provocative novel that will have astute readers reconsidering where exactly the boundaries between truth and fiction lie.” ―Bookpage

“Mia Frederickson, the poet narrator of The Summer Without Men… is blessed with empathy, irony and a healthy dose of feminist outrage at the way women's minds and bodies are routinely devalued… [Hustvedt's] finely wrought descriptions of everything from love to mean girls to marital sex make [The Summer Without Men] well worth reading.” ―Associated Press

“[Hustvedt's] finely wrought descriptions of everything from love to mean girls to marital sex make [The Summer Without Men] well worth reading.” ―Associated Press

“Composed in tight vivid prose, The Summer Without Men is energetic, and handles its subjects with depth and wit, painting its characters and their complex emotions in the kind of detail that rings true to life.” ―Bibliokept.org

“Breathtaking… hilarious… What a joy it is to see Hustvedt have such mordant fun in this saucy and scathing novel about men and women, selfishness and generosity…. Hustvedt has created a companionable and mischievous narrator to cherish, a healthy-minded woman of high intellect, blazing humor, and boundless compassion.” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Intellectually spry… An adroit take on love, men and women, and girls and women.” ―Publisher's Weekly

“[A] 21st century riff on the 19th-century Reader-I-married-him school of quiet insurgent women's fiction… Tart comments on male vs. female styles of writing-and reading-novels are a delight… A smart, sassy reflection on the varieties of female experience.” ―Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780312570606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312570606
  • ASIN: 0312570600
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #660,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Paperback Vine 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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mia is a very intelligent and well educated poet and professor who suffers a brief period of temporary insanity when her husband requests a 'pause' in their relationship so he may have a dalliance with one of his colleagues.

Hustvedt's novel felt like a brief history of womanhood, feminism and a woman's place in society. It was very interesting to see these themes dissected and analyzed in the context of a broken marriage and mental illness.

Hustvedt is obviously a very intelligent author but she tries too hard to impress and unfortunately comes off as pretentious. The book is also dragged down by the protagonist's overwhelming pessimism. Hustvedt makes acute commentary on female friendships and relationships but the book never manages to resonate with the reader because it is written with a lack of warmth. This book is great for readers looking for "chick lit" with brains.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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