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.