Vanessa Ronan, an American author living in Dublin, has produced a stunning debut novel in The Last Days of Summer.
Beautifully written, The Last Days of Summer is the story of Jasper Curtis, recently released from serving ten years in Huntsville State Penitentiary. Jasper returns to live with his sister and her two daughters on the remote prairie farm where he grew up.
We don’t know what crime Jasper committed but we quickly find out that it left a lasting impact on his local community.
Jasper claims to be done with trouble, but his sister Lizzie fears that trouble isn’t done with him. His return to their community is unwelcome and there’s vengeance in the air making Lizzie fear for the safety of her two young daughters.
Lizzie is torn between childhood memories, loyalty and affection for her brother and fear of the monster that he has become.
Her elder daughter Katie resents how Jasper’s return puts at risk her relationship with her boyfriend Josh and his friends.
Katie’s younger sister Joanne, the only family member who doesn’t know the details of Jasper’s crime, is part fearful of her uncle, part enthralled.
Joanne’s innocence plays into themes of vengeance and redemption in a skilfully crafted story.
Ronan creates believable characters and challenges them with complex emotions. For Lizzie and Jasper it’s the tension in their sibling relationship. For Katie it’s the pressure of coping with a difficult family situation as a young adult in a very adult world. For Joanne, it’s the urge to find out what everyone else already knows.
The Last Days of Summer is a compelling and satisfying read. A story that you feel couldn’t be told any other way.
The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan is published by Penguin Random House. [Disclosure: I received an advance review copy from the publisher].