It starts with fire sirens, so loud the littlest children clap their hands over their ears. But not my guys, old enough now to tough it out–and join the parade on their decorated bikes to cheers from neighbors lined on both sides of the street.

Only … this Fourth of July Parade, one boy returned after he’d finished the short parade route, red-faced and sweating. The other wasn’t with him. “Where’s your brother?” was answered with a shrug. The street was empty. And I had the feeling of dread every parent knows, that hollowing out, followed by cold palms–on a very hot day.

I had to wait only a minute. A minute, and I spotted his smiling face, which I’d never loved more. He’d taken another lap around the parade route, winding up riding between a couple of police cruisers, utterly safe.

Still, I thought later about the hair’s breadth that separates joy from fear–and how that razor’s edge feeling works in life and on the page, to heighten our senses, arrest the world, and focus our intentions.

A part of us–the primitive brain part maybe–delights in the gooey sweet center of darkness. You know: the rickety roller coaster, the scary clown, the creepy circus music.

Which brings me to my latest summertime thrill-read: GLORY DAYS, a novel in stories by Melissa Fraterrigo, which I initially selected for my sister, who likes “creepy circus books.” It’s not creepy, but it is dark. And, if it’s important to eat with the season, I figure why not read with the season. What better season to settle into sticky-hot, unsettling stories set around an amusement park than summer?

Glory Days by Melissa Fraterrigo, from the Flyover Fiction Series ed. by Ron Hansen

Reading this book feels dangerous, like the Tilt-A-Whirl ride gone wrong when I was maybe 8, my brother 6, the safety bar broken–when I felt sure the centrifugal force would send him flying. No one flew, but still that dangerous, ecstatic feeling remains written on my middle-aged heart.

Glory Days feels like that–decidedly thrilling. Like being a mom or a roller coaster junkie: one in the same.

From the summary on the back cover: “At the center of this novel is the story of Teensy and his daughter, Luann, who face the loss of their land [to developers] even as they mourn the death of Luann’s mother….When Glory Days–an amusement park–is erected,” the past of Midwest ranchers and farmers is beat out by new money, drugs, and greed… “In Glory Days Melissa Fraterrigo combines gritty realism with magical elements to paint an arrestingly stark portrait of the painful transitions of twenty-first-century, small-town America.”

If you loved Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage, a National Book Award finalist, you’ll like Glory Days. If you like novels in stories… If you like your summer reads with a side of eerie… And there’s the amusement park seer, Fredonia the Great, a great conceit and even better, heartbreaking character.

This book–set in its fictional Nebraska town of Ingleside–contains a multitude of envy-inspiring invention, like a roller coaster named Tornado. But it’s the language that arrested me. Fraterrigo is full-on gritty, without going too spare. She lets us settle into this unsettled landscape of new haves and historic have-nots–a tinderbox for conflict.

From the titular story:

Fredonia recalls the sound of the balers, dust rising up from the till. Back then Ingleside had dirt roads and banks of trees and always the river with its green fertile scent. She wakes with a start and remembers all over again that the fields have sprouted new weekend homes, and not too far away stores that are as big as football fields stretch out where corn tassels once swayed. Still, it is hard to look and not see the farms cowering. Now there’s the chatter of rides on their tracks, screams clinging to wind.

Glory Days would make a great Midwest tandem read with Sarah Smarsh’s memoir Heartland, which I discussed here on the blog this spring.

Now, it’s your turn. What are you reading this summer? Do you look for a light read? Dark? Is it just me, or are suspense and horror novels popping up more and more on the What to Read this Summer lists?

Looking for a poem to start your day? A flash fiction piece over lunch? Short story or essay at bedtime? We’ve got you–over at Parhelion Literary Magazine, where there’s a brand new issue up for your summer reading pleasure. I also encourage you to check out our Features section, edited by yours truly–for essays, reviews, and interviews. (For you writers out there, submissions are always rolling!)

Happy reading and writing.


8 thoughts on “On reading GLORY DAYS…and other summertime scares

  1. My belly did a flip, even as I read your blog. Been there, thankfully just briefly as well. Reading In Cold Blood by Capote and The Count of Monte Cristo. Pointless killing and revenge, anybody?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have to admit I haven’t read either of those. Hello, darkness! These days, it’s Midwest/Rust Belt stuff for the blog and Southern/new publications for Parhelion–and I’m about read out! Just ran across a Lit Hub list of the best books–by decade–and I’m amazed how many huge critical successes and classics (new and old) I’ve skipped. In my next life I’m going to be a speed reader! Oh, and I thought of you. I’ve joined my first Bible study, which is something for this lazy Catholic. So, I’m reading some of that–that counts as a classic, right?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Okay, here’s another book to add to my growing pile of summer reading! LOL
    Thanks for the recommendation, Rebecca. I hadn’t heard of Melissa Fraterrigo, but when I looked her up I saw that she’s right here in my I-state, and I recognized a couple of names in her acknowledgments page, too. Glad to have found this writer through your wonderful blog!
    So glad you found your other child so quickly — I can only imagine that feeling. I, too, watched a 4th parade in a small Western Michigan town; so much fun!
    Keep writing!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Deb! Oh, I know the sky-high TBR pile! Yes, she’s in your state. In the Rumpus interview I linked to in another comment she talked about switching the setting of Glory Days to Nebraska for the Univ. of Nebraska Press’s Flyover series. It’s a wonderful press and series–only, I can’t imagine changing the location of my book like that!

    I get great use out of acknowledgements–don’t you? I find that if I like one author’s sensibilities, I’ll often like her author-friends’, too.

    I wish I could say that the feelings of dread as a parent are few and far between, but this is what I get for encouraging them to get out on their bikes (with helmets) and explore our little town. It’s occasional dread or keeping them inside all day–and I can’t do that to 9 year-olds!

    I love a good little parade. Our town does Fourth of July and Halloween up right–my neighbor calls the holidays our two high holy days!

    Hope you’re managing to stay cool!

    Liked by 1 person

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