Buckhanon captures Autumn’s frustration at the undervaluing of black women, accompanied by the creeping gentrification of her Harlem neighborhood ... Yet it is Buckhanon’s elegant images of grief that most captivate ... Devastating.
In Autumn, Kalisha Buckhanon has created a narrative voice that’s authentic, emotionally charged and wise, but beneath the surface of the story lurks the unraveling of a life and how 'even the biological imperative to survive' can sometimes lose against the 'power of past experiences.' Buckhanon has crafted a deeply moving psychological mystery with twists that come in unhurried moments like the small notes the sisters buried in bottles in their garden shed. I’m going to be talking about Summer for a while.
Novels of psychological suspense often employ unreliable narrators, but Buckhanon, who’s also known for her work as an on-air true crime expert, employs the device not to keep readers off-balance, but rather to evoke Autumn’s fragility and raise universal questions about mental illness, racism, and love ... fiercely astute.
Speaking of Summer is Trojan Horse literature, a deception planted by an unreliable narrator lying both to the audience and herself. Instead of delivering genre thrills, Buckhanon takes us on a walking tour of a breakdown ... At the risk of spoiling it, Speaking of Summer is a literary descendant of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, except the defining trauma is buried in the far past rather than the novel’s central action ... When Speaking of Summer pulls the veil back from its foundational deceit, it’s far more interesting and engaging than the rote promise it leaves unfulfilled.
While the novel explores issues of race, gender, and violence with nuance, too often awkward prose distracts from the story’s gravity. At times it can be hard to believe that Autumn, a 34-year-old Midwestern transplant to Harlem, is a savvy freelance marketer and website wordsmith given the book’s odd narration ... Her descent into financial insecurity is convincing as she loses clients while she's obsessing over Summer, but other storylines lack emotional resonance. Much of the novel unfolds in Autumn’s disembodied thoughts, untethered from time and space, rather than in concrete scenes, especially early on. The story's main characters rarely interact in real time ... These structural choices sacrifice clarity for the sake of suspense ... Buckhanon understands the complexities of trauma. Her portrait of Autumn’s grief, fragmented memories, and inner turmoil all synthesize current scientific research on how people cope with traumatic experiences and might seek to heal ... Unfortunately, a somewhat clumsy chase for mystery overshadows the accurate portrayal of one woman’s struggles with mental health.