Issue #210: That Summer, ’53
by Victoria Redel

210-coverI’m writing this in the final moments of summer, which always feel both relaxing and fraught. I spend every minute I can outdoors, enjoying the last of the good weather, and at the same time, I wonder at how fast the days have gone by. Luckily, I have Victoria Redel’s remarkable story, “That Summer, ’53,” to help me remember the smell of BBQ cooking, the cool joy of jumping into a cold lake, and the lazy stretch of a summer night with friends, sipping drinks and watching the sun filter pink and orange through the trees. Set in 1953, this bucolic lakeside life is the American dream for Serge Solta and his young Russian family, their own little piece of Shangri-La. But things are more complicated than they seem in Serge’s work life and his marriage. The McCarthy hearings and the Rosenberg executions are broadcasting through everyone’s TV sets, and soon Serge finds himself caught between two worlds, muffling his misgivings with Seabreeze cocktails and the rhythm of Pérez Prado’s “Mambo Number Five” while trying to keep Shangri-La from slipping through his fingers. Check out Victoria Redel’s Q&A with us to hear the family history behind this sharply-turned tale. Then it’s time to get out your vintage cocktail shaker, fix yourself a Gin-and-It, open the pages of “That Summer, ’53,” and enjoy a literary Indian summer.

5 thoughts on “Issue #210: That Summer, ’53
by Victoria Redel

  1. This story got me from the first line. I was reading on the A train (Penn Station to Bed-Stuy), and almost missed my stop. Ms. Redel created a whole world in this short story, and it completely captivated me. I could see the sunsets in my mind’s eye, the lake, even the sun shining through Ella’s dress while she was at the cabin’s kitchen window; I could hear the dance music, and wondered if Serge would run (did run) into my parents dancing at one of those Midtown clubs. Beautiful, sensual sensory writing, characters who breathed, and all beautifully told.
    This was a perfect short story. Complete unto itself, but leaving me wanting to know what happened next.

  2. I was in Monticello in 1953 as a six year in a cramped bungalow.
    My experiences was similar.
    My dad was a weekend commuter.
    I never asked him or even thought to, what he did during the summer.

    I think I was always afraid to find out.
    I was a little boy and wanted to stay one.

    Ms. Redel’s story is truly exemplary in atmospherics.

    I found the ending to be rushed and banal.

    I did not learn anything new sorry to say.

    My parents like Ella and Serge were strivers and desperate for their little piece of the American Dream.

    As we said in Brooklyn long ago and far away: “Ish Kabbile”
    I should care about them?

    Afraid not
    A solid B but no more.
    Better luck next time.

  3. Clearly, this writer is more than an able wordsmith but, finally, this story did not live up to my expectations. Endings are hard, I know, but, as I understand it, they ought to be an” inevitable surprise.” While I was intrigued and impressed with the author’s inclusion of important political issues, ultimately, nothing came of them and the story unfolded in the obvious way from start to finish. The ending was inevitable, yes, but, to my mind, the storyline was largely predictable and the ending hardly a surprise.

  4. I, for one, truly enjoyed and admired this story. The physical setting was well done and I got the feeling of this 1950’s social world – hustling, getting over the war. Didn’t mention Korea but it was part of the atmosphere of the times. I’m not sure Cuba was getting that much attention in ’53. McCarthy, however, would have been plenty to make a Russian immigrant nervous.
    But what I really liked was the piece by piece way Serge revealed his character. At first I like him for his esthetic sensibilities, the good-natured way he tries to mollify his wife and keep peace between her and his mother, his nostalgia for fishing in Russia, his successful relations with the other men, his affection for his daughter. Then gradually, incident by incident, a picture builds of a lazy, immature man with poor judgement. It is like riding in a canoe where the channel steadily narrows and you go faster and faster into disaster. Predictable after a certain point, yes, but I liked it as a particular illustration of the self-delusions we all have, we like to believe not to this extent.

  5. Incredible story that I’m glad I got to read. Redel really delves into the psychology of what it means to be a person, an immigrant, in search of family and belonging in America and the world.

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