Oak Park resident Shapiro’s previous novel, 2016’s The Sun In Your Eyes,chronicled the enchantments and disenchantments of intense female friendship, and The Summer Demands feels like a logical extension of similarly intricate themes of intimacy and vulnerability ... material that could become lurid and crude...or even glib and cliché comes across, thanks to Shapiro’s skill, as complicated and affecting, compassionate and humane ... A gorgeously written story of late youth and early middle age, the novel makes the delicate argument that maybe a person can come of age at any age — that maybe everyone is always coming of age all the time.
Building the novel around just a handful of characters gives it the compression of a play and allows Shapiro...to focus on subtle shifts in relationships. For readers who like thoughtful women’s fiction.
Through Emily, Shapiro demonstrates a person that resides within us all, somewhere. A person who — in this world — it is frighteningly easy to feel the force of ... an entangled and continuous flow of thought that builds and builds and never really reaches climax. Never attains resolution. And it is through this methodological recoiling, and through Emily, that Deborah Shapiro is able to ask questions. The kinds that swell inside people. The kinds that become unwritten through languages of avoidance. But questions that, every so often, refuse suppression. That burn ... Shapiro seems more concerned with the actual practice of asking. These questions, left unanswered — as well as the conversations and actions of the characters, and the characters themselves — reverberate inside the novel. Which becomes, like summer, a container: full of busy yet static energy, moving in various directions, struggling to settle and waiting to be released ... feels like an arousal of urgency.
Emily is a sympathetic protagonist, a woman who is beginning to feel doors closing in her life even though she doesn't feel like an 'adult.' Stella is no less captivating, embodying youthful freedom and vulnerability. Together, they make for an electrifying duo, and the strange and blurred relationship that emerges between them is charged to the point of creating an edge-of-your-seat tension. While the plot can feel low-stakes, the emotional connection between the two women is captivating and complex.
Shapiro grapples with not uncommon themes, but unfortunately doesn’t bring much new to the table. Shapiro is a thoughtful and capable writer and perfectly renders the arc of a summer affair, but there’s a tepidness to the book that lets it down.