The Last Summer of Love
Set in New York City during the summer of 1970, The Last Summer of Love focuses on one family, the Sevens, especially on two twenty-one-year-old cousins, Kiel and Katy. The novel follows family members as they navigate the radically changing urban culture and adapt to new attitudes toward gender, religion, authority, war, drugs, and sex. More
Set in New York City during the summer of 1970, The Last Summer of Love focuses on one family, the Severns, especially on two twenty-one-year-old cousins, Kiel and Katy. The novel follows the influence on family members of the radically changing attitudes toward gender, religion, authority, war, drugs, and sex. While liberating, these changes also devastate the family and, for Katy, prove fatal.
The novel opens in August as Ed Severn, Kiel twenty-nine year-old uncle, searches the East Village for his nephew. Katy has died suddenly, and Kiel needs to attend her funeral. Ed stops briefly at the apartment of Dora, Kiel’s mother, recently separated from Hal, her husband. She has been struggling to succeed in modeling, a business that rewards youth, and, although it is late afternoon, she has a suitor. Dora does not know where Kiel may be. After Ed leaves, he encounters one of Kiel’s friends on his way to hand out Marxist pamphlets. The youth directs him to the apartment where Ed finds his nephew. Kiel, in the company of an attractive woman in her thirties, refuses to leave, despite Ed’s protests. He tells Ed that he will attend the funeral the next day.
The narrative turns back to late spring. Hal copes with Dora’s rejection by turning to alcohol and religion and clutching traditional masculine values. He views his past as heroic, and lives with his son in perpetual conflict. Hal regards Kiel, in college rather than Viet Nam, with contempt. The hostility is aggravated by Kiel’s allying himself with his mother in his parents’ feuds. After a violent confrontation, Kiel flees and telephones his cousin, Katy.
Katy lives with conservative parents in a New York suburb. Her father has a history of mental illness, and her mother asserts control over her. The cousins have not been close since puberty, when Katy became deeply religious for about a year. Nevertheless, their relationship revives as Kiel exposes her to 1970’s urban youth culture of hallucinogens and multiple sex partners. Katy takes a deep interest in one young man, but he does not share her feelings. Nevertheless, the cousins move from one party to the next until, on a day in July, they find a dead newborn in an abandoned basement. Although the discovery does not traumatize Kiel, it deeply disturbs Katy. She tells Kiel she does not wish to share his type of life, and she returns to her parents’.
At home, Katy tries to embrace the Catholicism of her childhood, but finds it severely lacking. She realizes, however, that praying soothes her, and she begins to spend her afternoons in church. The priest attempts to lead her back to traditional worship, but his ploys only push her further away. After a couple of weeks, she meets two fanatically religious women who seek new ways to bring themselves closer to God. They profess the value of personal ordeals and invented rituals. Katy finds promise in their beliefs, but this has tragic consequences. During a penitential ritual, she accidentally kills herself.
The last section focuses on the hours surrounding Katy’s funeral. Kiel arrives to accompany Katy’s parents, Ed, and Hal to the cemetery. Because of his grief, Kiel begins to sympathize more deeply with others, even with his father. But afterwards, as Kiel and Ed walk to the subway from Hal’s apartment, Kiel stops to talk to two young women in front of a store. The novel end as Ed prods his nephew to come with him, and the women tell him to stay.