Serdar Yegulalp, Summerworld (Genji Press, 2011)
Full disclosure: while we have never met in the flesh, Serdar and I have been pals via Internet for about fifteen years now.
Summerworld is my third experience with Serdar Yegulalp’s novels. Both of the other two I’ve read, The Four-Day Weekend and Flight of the Vajra, made my Best I Read lists in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Summerworld had a lot to live up to. And yet it never entered my mind that it wouldn’t.
Plot: Three years ago, Hirofumi Gô was a psychotherapist with a good career, a happy home life, the works. Then one of his patients committed suicide, and everything pretty much went to hell. As we open, he is meeting his wife for lunch at a sushi restaurant. She informs him that she has been offered, and has accepted, a position in Australia. Gô knows that this is effectively the end of his marriage. His life has bottomed out. Then he gets home, and in the post is a letter from his dead patient inviting him to a small spa in the countryside. In his search for a rational explanation, Gô boards a train to the small rural town where the spa is. He falls asleep on the train—and when he wakes up, the world has changed. I’m not sure exactly how much I can say about the change without spoilers, so I will go with Yegulalp’s own description on the jacket copy—Gô finds himself in a world “shaped by the fears and desires of all those who were lucky enough to survive the journey.”
While it has little to do with Summerworld itself, one of the things that most impressed me about the novel was that this is the third distinct genre of fiction I’ve read from Yegulalp (and as I mentioned, this is the third novel of his I have read). Summerworld is a fantasy novel, Flight of the Vajra science fiction, The Four-Day Weekend a rom-com. (I think I’m going to get smacked for that.) It would be impossible for an author to write three completely different books; authors tend to explore certain themes, leading to commonalities in various things they write (Summerworld and Vajra both have strong action/adventure underpinnings, for example), but still, these are three very different books in three very different genres, and (spoiler alert!) all three have received very high marks from me. Summerworld has many of the hallmarks I have come to expect from Yegulalp’s writing; his characters are richly-detailed and react realistically to situations that are sometimes frankly ridiculous (Gô throwing himself into a river shortly after getting to the spa in order to see if he’s dreaming or not is a wonderful example of this), the worldbuilding is pristine, and neither of these things slow the pace down any more than it needs to be slowed. I’d say that some of the book’s relationships are more complex than those in the other books of his I’ve read; one of the cores of the book is a surprising, and very well-thought-out, love triangle between one of the characters and two very different women, and another relationship here explores the nature of androgynous romance that Yegulalp would return to in Vajra.
I have heard all the success stories about self-published authors who go on to become household names after selling fifty thousand copies of their books on word of mouth alone. (I’m looking at you, Treasure E. Blue.) That Serdar Yegulalp is not one of those success stories yet continues to befuddle me. He’s writing some of the best American novels of the past decade, and no more than a handful of people have read them so far. I cannot recommend highly enough that you become another of them. And so far, every entry into Serdar Yegulalp’s weird worlds is just as good for the novice as any other. Summerworld continues the trend with aplomb. ****