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What I Just Read: Summer of '85 by Richard Fellinger (A book review)

Updated: Jan 11

Beautifully crafted, insightful, and emotional book!

Summer of ’85 by Richard Fellinger is a beautifully crafted, insightful, and emotional portrait of a likeable middle-aged man grappling with his younger self. I read this book in one day wanting to know more about the narrator, Dan Fehr, his unrequited summer love, and how he would cope with his recent losses (broken marriage, and a death). The plot is braided between what is his current situation in 2015 as a newspaper editor covering stories of mass shooting and gun violence, and what was his life during the Summer of ‘85 thirty years earlier, one summer on the Jersey Shore. The story’s short timeline of weeks seems like a lifetime because the reader journeys psychologically through years of Dan’s memories and thoughts.

Through vivid description, I could see the buildings of Harrisburg PA, smell the splattered coffee in the Telegraph newspaper office, and feel the sand between my toes down the beach. I loved the references to the 80s (New Coke), music references and his Huey Lewis chin. Add a teal green swimsuit, the taste of scotch, and a damaged blue corolla to the images that bring this story to life. Supporting characters: wife Stacey, loving parents, Julia, and Wimpy, the three-legged dog, reveal a lot about Dan’s loyalty and sensitivities. I felt young again alongside 19-year-old Dan and old again alongside old Dan. Sometimes I wanted to yell at Dan and tell him what to do.

So relatable is Dan’s coming to grips with how he wished that he zigged when he zagged. And when the pain of his regret is refocused, the story leaves the reader with a satisfying ending. Dan thinks to himself, “Were things ever really better before? Or did they just seem that way? Maybe they just seem that way when we still have our whole future ahead of us. That’s the nature of the future - the promise of hope.” (Ch 21) Oh, how I love the ending. Summer of ’85 is a melancholy paced read, full of universal human reflections. At times, the protagonist reminded me of a cross between Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown and J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield, only Dan Fehr is grown-up sorting through matters of the heart. Readers, you’ll love Dan.

Summer of '85 is the Winner of the Seven Hills Review Novel Excerpt Contest, finalist for the American Fiction Award, distinguished favorite for the NYC Big Book Award, honorable mention at the Hollywood Book Festival. It is available on Amazon.

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