Midwest Book Review

Most Western novels are somewhat predictable and staid in their approaches to their subjects; but Western novel enthusiasts who seek something quite different should take a close look at Tim Blaine’s Never Summer, because it not only blends a Japanese theme with the story of a wanderer through the wild West, but it is replete with evocative metaphors and images not usually seen in Western writings: “He had managed to escape the place where every blade of grass rhymed with the last line of a tragic poem. For him, the narrative of his friend’s ruin would forever echo across Japan’s Tōkaidō Road.”

From the alleyways of Manhattan and the strange scenario of a sick man who rents a hotel room only to wake up in the company of a physician and an artist, Never Summer opens with incongruities and striking, descriptive images as it reveals the actions of a man diagnosed with only a short time to live.

As Vlad uses his remaining time to undertake a journey out West in search of a physician who might be able to help him, he rolls through a landscape of romance, surprising confrontations, and reflections on not just the nature of life and death, but his choices in facing both: “To some, death was a doorway to a new life, or an honor to be achieved in battle, while to others it was simply an abrupt end. It was the latter that he could not reconcile. He simply would not accept a presumption that stripped all meaning from life. He knew he must go to the grave, but he could not consent, knowing that it would take everything from him. In the heat of the moment he knew he could act like a samurai, ignoring the question of victory or defeat, and charge daringly toward an irrational death, yet life was more than a moment. He felt as though he lacked a certain understanding that might grant him the resolve to accept his death, a vision that would give him the upper hand.” When one’s opponent is invincible, how can he be vanquished?

There are many unusual themes and subplots running through Never Summer to keep readers on their toes and guessing about Vlad’s experiences and where his journey will lead. From the synchronized, recurring themes of art and love to reflective moments brought to the surface by a single day in a strange town (“He felt the rumble from a train of thought, and kept his gaze on Longs Peak while he walked, suspecting that at any moment the vibrant aspects that suspended his senses would come crashing down in an avalanche of inspiration. His pace slowed as he struggled to take in the novelty of the brilliant day. Every color appeared in distinct contrast. The town was still new to him, but even the trees appeared as oddities previously unknown, or as something he had forgotten.”), the refreshing, sparkling prose simply shines; as does the life of Vlad, who is anything but your typical Western wanderer.

The result is a compelling literary piece about a nineteenth-century drifter who returns from Japan to traverse a landscape as foreign to him as the concept of his own impending demise. Readers who appreciate genre-busting, thought-provoking reads – especially those familiar with and holding an affinity for Western settings – will relish the tone and characters of Never Summer. – Midwest Book Review

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