Bad Dreams, Bad Storytelling

Author: Tim Meyer

Malignant Summer starts with a coming-of-age treasure-hunt-across town but ends with the Mother of Dead Dreams and a haphazard team of kids trying to save the world. As the plot slowly, slowly, slowly inches across five hundred plus pages, the kids (mostly three interchangeable boys) make dick jokes and speculate about the end of the world and their friendships. Meanwhile, a malevolent entity that may or may not have something to do with the insidious chemical plant in town is invading dreams, sending dire warnings, and claiming the town’s children with a rapid cancer, one by one. It’s up to the boys then, and a few later added female companions, to take on the supernatural baddie, find out what she wants, and shut her down.

Malignant Summer is a very disjoined story. It’s hard to even summarize, because while the story knows what it wants to be (a kid version of the Scooby Gang or even the Losers Club from It), it doesn’t know what this nameless monster is and where this evil chemical plant comes into play. After hundreds and hundreds of pages, we’re still just as confused as the kids.

There is both too much and not enough going on. We have a bad girl trying to turn good, three boys growing up and facing their fears, a disgruntled teacher with unrealistic encounters with the boys, a teenage boy trying to show some love to the unloved, a psychotic mother in an institution making dire predictions and trying to kill her son, a guilt ridden father wondering if he’s doing the right thing, some shady chemical plant employees, the chemical plant’s illegal dumping activity crew (read: monster bait), a long ago group of Puritans/the city’s first inhabitants, a hysterical vision dude, endless rounds of disposable teenagers, and the Mother of Dead Dreams . . . plus some zombie like citizens with flowers sprouting from their eyes. It’s not entirely clear which of these side stories is the important one and how or if they connect. And I didn’t even cover all the side stories. I spared you.

Image by Square Frog from Pixabay

What is consistent is the extreme slowness. Only one character stands out – bad girl Jewel trying to go good. The three boys are interchangeable and seem more concerned with the last summer of their youth and having some fun than this flowery apocalypse. All the parents are equally horror-movie oblivious; the chemical plant people are maniacally laughing in the dark with that fourth-quarter money-grabing mentality (which doesn’t make sense since they live in the town too and are drinking the water), and then this weird mother with glowing yellow eyes and some sort of scheme and origin that makes zero sense in the end lurks in the background. There is certainly potential, here and there, but the story never settles on any one focal point and The Mother herself is poorly explained, as is her inexplicable scheme.

When we finally finish the tale, it’s with a sign of relief. This story was both boring and unrealistic. If the fate of all earth is in the hands of these kids, who neither think things through nor even attempt to share information with each other or the adults, then there would have been no “happy ending” and no dramatic showdowns between an immortal evil power and a fifteen-year-old armed with dick jokes. Stephen King got away with it; he made us believe and accept. But Malignant Summer does not have that same careful logic, that steady charm and breathless nostalgia. In the end, Malignant Summer had no redeeming feature other than that it ended. It was a pity, because the idea and even some of that fetid plant imagery had potential, but the delivery lacked coherence and enthusiasm. Not recommended.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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