I’m even more likely to pick up dark and disturbing stories when the sun is beating down. This stems to my “discovery” of Stephen King in a teenaged summer, beginning with Night Shift and Skeleton Crew.

There I was: lying on my back in the grass behind the rented two-storey duplex, the sun blocked from my eyes by outstretched arms holding up the paperback, reading “The Raft”. (If you know this story, you can imagine me tucking my body into ever-smaller space as I turned the pages.)

Recently, I finished reading It, which scratched my horror itch and, while I was reading, I thought maybe I would just read Stephen King for the rest of the summer. Because that seems like a very summery thing to do. To just go on and on with an author, like the hours of daylight spool out, this time of year.

But a lighter version of horror is the thriller–fun, even on the hottest days, when attention is fragmented. Thriller writers attend to plot and pacing, so you don’t have to work to keep your attention on the story.

A compelling tale to keep in mind for this summer is Katrina Onstad’s Stay Where I Can See You (2020).

Because I’ve enjoyed her earlier books, I was pretty hyped about this. Her 2006 novel, How Happy To Be was a standout read for me in that year, when I was freshly living in Toronto. And I was pleased to find her 2012 novel, Everybody Has Everything on that year’s Giller list (and, later, nominated for the Toronto Book Award).

One aspect of Onstad’s fiction that I enjoy is how her characters grapple with major shifts in identity, usually with a struggle to reconcile the person they used to be with the person they have become.

In her first two novels, the women at the centre of the stories become different versions of themselves either through neglect or accident: a job that was meant to be temporary until a fulfilling career took hold overshadows everything else, a woman who wasn’t planning to be a mother finds herself caring for a child.

In Stay Where I Can See You, one character has made a deliberate choice to be someone other than she used to be. Alongside this decision, however, the family wins the lottery, so many aspects of their lives and relationships change unexpectedly.

At the heart of the narrative are Gwen and Maddy, mother and daughter, with the men in their lives peripheral but present. For my taste, I would have preferred either fewer or more voices; either decision would have created different opportunities for the reader to connect with the two highly emotive situations presented in the wake of the family’s big win.

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The nitty-gritty, possibly-too-much-ness, of what I'd've rathered

IMO, Narrowing to a single voice would allow a dramatic situation to swell out of that single person’s intimate experience, without inviting any “too tidy” solutions. Widening the cast would allow for broader narrative strokes discouraging questions about whether a certain outcome is realistic, because against the backdrop of more family members’ experiences, we wouldn’t feel the same pressure to have one or two characters’ problems resolved and instead focus on hoping they all cope/thrive. Either technique would have resolved my niggles about particular plot points, by redirecting my concerns–either back to the single character or outward to all the rest.

Nonetheless, Onstad’s characterization of her key players appears to be effortless. Even when she creates characters who strain the reader’s patience (something that’s more true of her previous novel), they are credible and consistent. As much as I did not want a satin-bow-tied ending for this novel, I simultaneously wanted things to work out for its characters. Their insecurities and anxious moments, the economic uncertainties and opportunities they missed: I wanted more for them, even when (especially when) my hopes were unrealistic.

As a page-turner, Katrina Onstad’s novel checks the boxes and will leave readers satisfied. The pacing is steady and the dialogue speeds it further. So, if you’re impatient for the next Shari Lapena, Chevy Stevens, Amy Stuart or Robyn Harding, Stay Where I Can See You will keep your attention, particularly if you appreciate a Toronto-soaked setting.

As for my other summer-reading moods? I’ve got a book for every one of them.

  • A coming-of-age story and a romantic suspense story featured in my post earlier this week.
  • Also a sprawling (and arguably overwritten and melodramatic) family saga: Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. (Clearly I missed some things, as a girl watching the mini-series on TV, and it was deliciously fraught and over-wrought.)
  • A door-stopper, Hanya Yanighara’s A Little Life. Something you can sink into, when it’s too hot to move.
  • A fantasy, Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Because the longer you sit still, the easier it is to believe that the world you thought you inhabited is something-else now.
  • A too-long-overlooked classic (with Reese, feel free to join if it’s on your TBR as well), Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch (translated by Gregory Rabassa). Conjuring up memories of school reading lists to be dispensed with before classes returned.
  • A reread of some Carol Shields (with Bookish Beck, we’ve finished The Box Garden and are heading for A Celibate Season next). For comfort, when the familiar calls most loudly. [Edit: Oops, got the title wrong there, thanks Rebecca!]
  • Some essays, Ralph Ellison’s, among others. When only a fragment will do.
  • Some poetry, Sylvia Hamilton’s And I Alone Escaped to Tell You, which consider how African people settled in what is now called Nova Scotia. When only an even-smaller fragment will do.
  • And some politics, Thomas Chatterton Williams’ A Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race. When the news is “too much” and, simultaneously, “not enough”.
  • A children’s series, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, some being rereads and some fresh reads. To remember what it used to feel like, to have nothing to do but read.
  • A mystery, Timothy Findley’s The Telling of Lies, one of his lesser-known efforts, set in a hotel with an unreasonably large cast of characters, with several regular and returning guests (all expecting this to be their last summer, for a variety of reasons). Whydunnits and whodunnits: compulsion outweighs the tendency to wilt.
  • A play, Claudia Rankine’s The White Card: A Play in One Act. For those single-sitting, single-pitcher of lemonade afternoons.

There are so many ways to think about summer reading. The reason that I consistently have so many books in my stack is because my reading mood changes. This way, I have a book for every mood, close at hand.

What’s your summer reading like? And, even for those who are reading in winter right now, what appeals to you here?