The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt explores what happens when intellect fails, order dissolves, and one has to rely on strangers to reconstruct one’s life. Hustvedt’s protagonist, Mia, is a literature lecturer and small-time poet who temporarily loses control of her mental faculties when her husband of thirty years requests a ‘pause’ in their marriage following an indiscretion with a young colleague. A brief sojourn in a psychiatric facility follows, after which Mia relocates to Minnesota to spend time with her ageing mother and a colourful group of old women. She reassembles her life through unconventional relationships with the women, a young family, and a group of troublesome adolescent girls.
The novel oscillates, sometimes uncomfortably, between raw emotional introspection and academic discourse. Even though much of it takes place in provincial Minnesota, the atmosphere of Hustvedt’s familiar, urbane New York is ever present. One has the sense that Mia is desperate to assert her intellect in the face