When Mia Fredrickson’s husband of 30 years asks for a “pause” in their marriage while he pursues a relationship with a much younger colleague, Mia enters a tailspin that ends with her recovering in a psychiatric ward. Fleeing from a life that is no longer her own, she slinks back to her childhood hometown. Finding strength in the place where she first took root, Mia takes additional solace in the presence of her mother, who lives in a nearby extended care facility, and her young neighbor Lola, who juggles raising two young children with the demands of her fractious marriage, and in teaching poetry to a group of 13-year-old girls. As Mia slowly ensconces herself in the lives of those around her, she takes the time to reflect on where she has been and where she is headed; what results is a mesmerizing and powerful meditation on marriage, the differences between the sexes, aging and what it means to be a woman.
The Summer Without Men is Siri Hustvedt’s fifth novel, and a truly breathtaking one at that. Borrowing from science, philosophy, poetry and literature, Hustvedt boldly burrows deep into the feminine psyche, exposing the dark doubts and insecurities we all keep locked deep inside. Mia’s candid musings on the cruelty of young girls alongside the harsh reality of growing old are unflinchingly honest, and Hustvedt’s bravery in presenting an unvarnished portrait of the “fairer sex” is exhilarating.
Late in The Summer Without Men, Mia suggests that “there is no human subject outside the purview of literature,” a principle embodied by this very novel. 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.