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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

How I Spent my Summer Holidays

Reviewed: April 22, 2008
By: written and read by W.O. Mitchell
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
3 CDs, 3 hours, $29.95

How I Spent my Summer Holidays feels a lot like Who has Seen the Wind, but it’s an older book with a slightly different set of preoccupations. The time frame is much shorter for one thing. Wind covered about 8 years in the life of young Brian. Summer Holidays covers just one season. Wind stops on the cusp of the teenage years. Summer Holidays jumps right into Hugh’s 12th summer.

Another important difference is that Hugh’s story is told by Hugh. It’s an older Hugh who’s looking back on that time and trying to put it into context, but it’s still Hugh, and he lacks the omniscient understanding of the author/narrator of the earlier book. Both work, though. Wind was told to us by an outside voice, a tolerant and loving voice which understood more about Brian than he could know about himself at that age. Summer Holidays’ narrator makes some judgments and is a often embarrassed ad sometimes horrified by some of the things he did as a boy.

“Events of the summer of 1924 accelerated that irreversible corruption of my innocence,” Hugh says. “That was the year I was 12 and there should have been a rage in heaven.”

In southern Saskatchewan in the summer of Hugh’s youth in the 1920s, two things mattered a great deal. There was the swimming hotel out by the Mental Hospital and there was the building of caves in which to hide from the glare of the summer sun.

Cave building provides a chapter of slapstick hilarity early in the book, but also provides mystery, drama and tragedy later on.

Nothing is wasted here. The swimming hole is established as a place of almost sexual intimacy - and we do wonder just a bit about King Motherwell, the W.W. I war vet, pool hall owner and rum runner who swims with the boys - but it is also a place of high comedy. In one delightfully understated scene a wandering mental hospital inmate who thinks he is Jesus Christ arrives at the swimming hole just as group of local Baptists have gathered there for a group baptism ceremony. The resulting chaos is predictable, but a lot of fun.

Cave digging and another escaped patient provide the high tension of this abridged version of the novel. Hugh and Peter Dean Cooper build a cave that they keep secret from almost everyone, only to find that Billy the Sheepherder has taken refuge there after his latest escape from the mental hospital. What happens to Billy and the role played in that by King and the boys lead to the climax of this abridged version of the book.

I mention this because there is a lot more to be found between the covers of the printed version. Mitchell, who prepared the abridgment for this reading, apparently decided to spare radio listeners the darkest part of the novel. The abridgment works. I read the book many years ago and didn’t recall the rest of the plot while I was listening to this version recently. It was only in flipping through my Seal paperback edition to get the spellings of the names that I realized what Mitchell had chosen to do.

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