From books to film and TV, nostalgic horror has been all the rage of late, and Until Summer Comes Around [Flame Tree Press, May 2020] by Glenn Rolfe is comfortably at home in the genre. In fact, if Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the Kristy Swanson flick), and Stranger Things had a fangy baby and put on paper, it might be this book—and that’s some high praise.
Set in the summer of 1986 in the Maine beach town of Old Orchard Beach during its annual tourist wave, Until Summer Comes Around is a tale as old as time: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy discovers girl is a vampire and her bloodthirsty and slightly batshit (vampire pun!) older brother is sucking the town’s population dry. Unbeknownst to anyone, a refreshingly dysfunctional family of vampires have come to OOB alongside the flock of faceless summer tourists, and one of them is just a little, er, hungrier than the others. He’s also very not cool to see his younger sister getting cozy on the beach with a boy.
Okay, so maybe it’s not actually a tale as old as time, but there are enough classic summer-love elements—and on-point references to an 80s timeline—in Rolfe’s When Summer Comes Around to give the novel the sort of swoony, surreal realism that makes a well-written flashback setting so immersive. The voices of the characters ring true, as do their emotions when what should be fun summer days devolve into a real-time nightmare sequence of disappearances, murders, and a whole lot of heartache for everyone involved. And, though the main protagonists in Summer are fifteen-year-old teenagers, Rolfe pulls no punches with the gore, balancing out all that sappy summertime passion with enough blood spatter, decaying corpses, and maggots—yes, maggots!—to successfully swerve right out of the possibility of Summer being anything less than a true horror story.
While Rolfe’s ability to convincingly pen a teenage summer romance of a decade bygone is sufficient enough to drape that familiar old feeling of shoulder-padded nostalgia atop your shoulders, it’s his take on classic vampire tropes that sets Summer apart. Despite the romantic element of the story, there’s no sun-sparkling teenage angst or smooth, Transylvanian seduction here (though there is the much more accurate, slightly bumbling approach to first love, because we’ve all been there). Likewise, there’s no garlic-fearing, crucifix-welding dependency on tried-and-tried vampire tropes, and the only references to coffins, black wardrobes, and poetic monologuing range from tongue-in-cheek to outright sardonic and are never to be taken seriously. Rolfe’s vampires are much more human, and much more…relatable…which only serves to up the ante in his coming-of-age-vampire-horror.
If you’re looking to go back in time to fall in love with a monster…Until Summer Comes Around is your next read.
New to audiobook, Laura Morrison’s Come Back to the Swamp is the spooky, swampy, supernatural solution to your June novella-audiobook needs!
Half space-opera, half ecological manifesto, Morrison weaves fantasy, science fiction, and a chilling atmosphere into a punch-packing novella that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The story follows ecology-grad student Bernice as she discovers a strange old woman orbiting the swamps of Cleary Swamp, a local research site where Bernice is studying invasive species. Convinced the woman is a former civil rights activist named Rebecca who disappeared in the swamp decades earlier, Bernice believes the woman is as in need of salvation as the swamp itself, which has become riddled with things like Asiatic ivy that don’t belong. Bernice takes it upon herself to relocate the woman into safer territory. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that Asiatic ivy isn’t the only invasive species in Cleary Swamp—and the Swamp has had enough.
Suffice it to say, Bernice’s extraction of Rebecca…doesn’t go as planned. After a stint into a spore and pollen drug-induced state during which she enjoys a warp speed odyssey on the set of her favorite operatic sci-fi tv show, Space Mantis, Bernice awakens with a new clarity and understanding of the swamp’s needs. Though certainly jarring for Bernice, it’s hard not to miss Morrison’s deeper message, a fitting allegory to the sort-of “awakening” many environmentally-conscience folks might have: sometimes—despite our best intentions to the contrary--we are the invasive species. When it comes to preserving the order of the natural world, sometimes it’s humans that simply don’t belong.
Swamps and spooks aside, what makes Come Back to the Swamp such an engaging and resonant story is Morrison’s interpretation of main protagonist. A bit of an idealist, Bernice is snarky, headstrong, and courageous, and her inner monologue is so on point it’s hard not to feel instantly connected. Although we only get a few pages of Bernice, she’s an easy character to champion, empathize with, and—eventually—commiserate for. Likewise, narrator Chelsea Stephens is the perfect voice to bring Morrison’s words to life. She is just as able to capture Bernice’s snark and the Swamp’s ominous warnings as she is to convincingly voice the inner musings of the bobcats Bernice worries might roam the swamplands. Together, this audiobook is three hours of pure listening pleasure, and a story readers will want to return to time and time again.
Gripping, evocative, and as ripe with messaging on the consequences of ecological devastation as it is loaded with sci-fi references, subtle calls to environmental activism, and enough chilly moments to have you looking over your shoulder on your next hike out into the woods, Come Back to the Swamp will have readers (and listeners!) looking over their shoulders the next time they go walking alone out into the wild.