In his debut The End of Summer, John Lowry Lamb tells a simple but magical story about a boy coming to terms with grave loss. The short novel's portrait of a troubled child brings to mind Elizabeth Shepard's moving H. The latter's main character has a vividly imagined imaginary friend; the protagonist in this tale hears voices of the long-dead and sees the more recently departed as he moves toward acceptance of loved ones gone forever.
Twelve-year-old Nick Harper's father died in a car accident in mid-winter; it's now summer, but the boy's grief remains debilitatingly fresh. His father's sister has moved to Nick's house on a farm to care for him, and Nick continues attentive vigils at his comatose mother's bedside. His aunt has set up counseling sessions for Nick with the only psychiatrist in their small Ohio town, but the boy's progress in dealing with his loss remains at a standstill.
Nick's main comfort comes from his talks with a local farmer, a postman, an aging doctor and a girl from his school on whom he has a crush. But he has another source of emotional diversion: the voices of the murdered Iriquois interred in an Indian burial ground in the countryside near his home. The voices are full of anger and lament, and at first Nick cherishes their company. Soon, though, he tires of their never-ending chorus of pain. It is then that he discovers a voice speaking from a large puddle left after a particularly hard rain. The voice is small and lost but reassuring. As he acquaints himself with it, he begins to think that it may be his father's soul reconnecting with his grieving own. As the puddle grows smaller with the passing days, the voice diminishes in strength. Although it is waning, it passes on a wisdom that will allow Nick to reconnect with nature and his own private world. With the voice's help, the damaged boy becomes stronger, and can at last face the truth of what has happened, accepting the deaths beyond his father's that have been haunting him.
The End of Summer is a quiet, touching first effort. By reaching out beyond others' capacities to believe, Nick is able to touch a larger reality that gives him the power to rescue not only himself but his grieving aunt as well. The story has a surprise ending that brings the narrative satisfyingly full-circle; this is, in the end, a rich reaffirmation of the human spirit.