With the Russian opposition leader assassinated and the Ukraine invaded, the possibility of nuclear war and a nuclear winter becomes a little—no, a lot—more relevant. Sorry, didn’t mean to leave out bad boys China and North Korea, and the growing threat of Iran.
The nuclear clock again races toward midnight.
In this novel you won’t see ships and bombers. Viewpoint is strictly from the civilian, so, you will hear the booms.
“Winter in July” tells of a man introduced to the horrors of nuclear war at the impressionable age of ten when he found his late uncle’s secret stash of nuclear war literature, which he began reading and having nightmares but kept reading. He couldn’t repress his new found, sometimes nearly neurotic fascination, which followed him into adulthood. As strong as his nuclear war obsession is his struggle to find love.
Hammett’s Mill, North Dakota, population 240, is located on the edge of ground zero–maybe the safest place–so gets a bomb shelter. The idea is to save entire populations in order to help rebuild civilization. The “front” of the gargantuan secret bomb shelter is called ‘Energy House.’ At the entrance is a small display room showing ways to save energy. Beyond the back wall panels lies an immensity large enough to house 300 people for up to 2 years. Only the city fathers know the truth.
This novel has a new cover. The original and title possibly led people to think that Christmas was somehow involved. The new cover should leave no doubt.
At the end of this post look for a haunting song by Neil Young and a sales announcement. Please see the 5-star review at the very end.
Excerpt from Chapter 7 “80 Acres of Paradise”
90-some-years-old sage, Samuel Hatwell, Esquire, is speaking:
Kirby is the main character. Colleen is a girlfriend.
“My dad homesteaded it back in the thirties.” Hatwell began preening his beard, stepped past Kirby and Colleen to the edge of steepness, then gazed toward the far expanses, probably remembering those long gone days, “I still say ‘the thirties’ as if we’re still livin’ in the twentieth century.” A hesitation, “But we ain’t. We’re in the grand third millennium now, the great days we been waitin’ fer a thousand years fer. But it’s no greater’n the twentieth century. Now there was a great century. But we’ll never see it again.”
Excerpt from Chapter 8 “Reflecting”
Kirby is listening to his late uncle’s favorite music. Look for this song at the end of this post.
The music interrupted his thoughts. One song finishing, another beginning. He knew which one was coming. The one that haunted him, yet he couldn’t stop listening to it. The one about fanfares and drummers, about a person in a burned-out basement, first with the moon in his eyes, then the sun bursting through the skies. But if it was night in the song, how could the sun burst through the skies?
Only one way.
Then the guy in the basement was hoping what a friend had said was a lie. Maybe Neil Young hadn’t meant him to take his song in such a way, but he felt at least some of the many stories in that song pointed directly to the occurrence and aftermath of nuclear war.
Excerpt from Chapter 18 “Lisa”
Kirby has the Point of View throughout the novel. Lisa he met in Chapter 3. He has several run-ins with her but they don’t get together until Chapter 18. This excerpt introduces a major problem, Kirby is in charge of security of the secret bomb shelter. Lisa is a leader of the local peace movement. She has applied for the position of museum curator for the Energy House. Conflict of interest would cost her job. Here he is waiting for her phone call and their first friendliness.
Twenty-four hours went by. During that time he mowed half the Energy House grounds, then called it a day because his jaw, with full feeling back, was aching. He had thought plenty too. He had not told Lisa the full truth.
Yes, a curator position was available, but that was only window dressing for the truth. There would be no, or few, visitors at the Energy House. There would be no signs, no listing on the official state road maps, tourist guides, nothing. Would anyone tell her the truth?
He suspected not. And because of how the underground building was designed, they could not tell her the truth, and no way would she ever discover the truth. But why wouldn’t they tell her the truth? Being curator she should know the truth. But if she wasn’t told by somebody else, then Kirby, also, could not tell her.
He stared at the phone. He could speak now. He had several times that day, if for no other reason than to practice, for when he spoke to Lisa he wanted to be completely clear.
But not completely truthful.
Maybe another twenty-four hours should go by.
Another twenty-four hours went by, and every cubic inch of his body and soul was ready. He picked up the phone receiver. If she knew the truth and was sincere in her peace beliefs she would not take the job. Of that he felt certain. So, if she took the job, then she was not aware of the truth. Of that, too, he was certain.
Excerpt from Chapter 19 “Colleen”
Again Kirby’s viewpoint. Colleen is not mentioned here, even though the chapter is named for her. It’s more untruthfulness toward Lisa.
Foremost was the quickly approaching open house at the Energy House. All of Hammett’s Mill’s finest would be there, and likely other dignitaries. He wondered how many of the special guests would know—or guess—the real purpose of the underground building.
And who would be curator? He could only think of Lisa Graham. So perfect. She could move in with him, they could get married, have children, raise a garden, and live happily ever after. But Lisa Graham, peacemaker, would never run the Energy House knowing its secret. So, she would not know.
And he could never tell her.
Four excerpts from Chapter 21 “Birthday Bash”
Hammett’s Mill is celebrating 125 years with a parade.
Kirby’s viewpoint. More dishonesty shown to Lisa. A hayrack loaded with suspicious men has pulled into the Energy House’s grounds. Lt. Oakes, Army Rangers, in civilian clothes, is present; more secrecy. The U.S. has just so much budget for building bomb shelters, so they have to be secret. Lisa, just recently hired, does not know the truth, and her peace advocacy is not yet known by the Powers-that-be.
On the hayrack the man with the angry eyes stepped forward and swung to the ground. The men could easily have forced their way past Smith. But they had not.
Then he noticed several eyeing toward the west. A large brown car sat there with three open doors, a man behind each. Lieutenant Oakes was one. Their hard, professional appearances said they would stand for no nonsense.
But what was Oakes even doing at Hammett’s Mill?
“Kirby?” Lisa pulled at his arm, did not sound happy, “What’s happening? None of this makes any sense.”
He looked at her innocent face. She could not possibly know the place was a bomb shelter. But she should know. He considered telling her right then, but it appeared she was about to find out regardless.
“What do you men need here?” Mayor Bradding sounded official, as if just seeing about town business.
“We want to know what kind of a building ya got here.” The man with angry, suspicious, eyes spoke, “We’ve heard stories.”
“What does he mean, Kirby?” Lisa squeezed and pinched his arm, harder than necessary, “I know you know something.”
He tightened his arm against her hands, “Shhhh, just wait, please.” Maybe things would come out. But why should they admit anything? But Lisa should know. But still he found it difficult to believe she did not know. But her avowed peace advocacy. How could she run the Energy House in good faith?
After they disappeared inside, he realized that Lisa would be able to lie straight-faced to the men because she didn’t know the truth. And the men would believe such an honest-appearing woman as Lisa. And Mayor Bradding knew exactly what he was doing by asking Lisa to join them. The bastard.
Lisa was almost there. He saw the concern she still felt for something she did not know about and nobody was telling her. He saw himself in her bright, loving eyes. God, how he cared for that woman, and felt the same feelings from her.
Look for a free Amazon digital download beginning Saturday (meaning Friday Midnight) March 14, 2015.
This song by Neil Young, “After the Gold Rush,” from the 70’s album of the same name, still gives me chills. In it I think he sings of the many ways Mother Nature is being destroyed. In my mind, in at least part of the song, I see nuclear war occurring, and the aftermath.
A Review: One of three 5-star reviews
Buy! — an unusual, introspective take on the apocalyptic / post-apocalyptic tale, May 5, 2012
By Kurt Stallings– Author, Law… (Fort Worth, Texas
Kirby Yates lives in a part of the country where there are almost as many nuclear missiles as there are people. The small little town he calls home is filled with lonely people making their way through silent lives. They would be mere numbers waiting to be dumped onto a casualty list if it wasn’t for the fact that their exact location is just beyond the range of total destruction by any enemy missiles aimed at the American bases a short drive across the prairie. Even so, Yates would be nothing among them in the eyes of planners, but for the fact that he happens to have a combination of basic military experience, a quiet competence for planting and managing landscapes, and a bit more intelligence than most. He’s chosen to prepare for and participate in any nuclear exchange without being informed of the fact until it’s too late to quit, although he is bright enough to realize it before. Ironically, he realizes, he is preparing the stage for the tragedy that has given him nightmares since discovering a secret stash of materials in his uncle’s house. His artist’s vision, which he keeps hidden from others, makes his sense of what may be coming only more vivid.
The author achieves something rare, if not indeed unique, with a work of fiction that not only broadens the reach of its particular sub-genre but doubles as a commentary on that sub-genre in itself. Certainly, this is the first of the A/PA novels I’ve read that explores the reason I am compelled to read so many. The protagonist grew up with the same obsessive sense of impending nuclear doom that vested in so many of us at a certain age, thanks to countless drills at school, those ridiculous films in class, and any number of black-and-white movies on TV. While some reviewers here are put off by Kirby Yates’ initial, relative immaturity — brilliantly and incisively detailed for him halfway through by a woman explaining why they can not be together — readers more accustomed to novels that aren’t purely action-driven will enjoy following his maturation, complete at the end of the book.
I’m not knocking action books, or those who enjoy them, I’m simply making the distinction so you can choose whether you personally might enjoy the book or not. I like action books; I also like this one. This is a book about a man, not a war, albeit a man preparing for the most terrifying of wars; and it’s a book about a real man, not a caricature.
I recommend BUY as someone who enjoyed the tension as the subtle shifts in his relationships, always driven by an artist’s appreciation for the insanity of nuclear war, was also balanced by an appreciation for the need for “adults” (as Yates puts it in his musings) who deal with insanity as something that is never going away. The struggle to achieve some sort of mature balance within himself as between those two impulses are what drive his decisions throughout the book. The ending is so satisfying because he finds that balance under the most surprising of circumstances — or perhaps the only situation in which he might have stumbled onto it. In any event, it’s his decisive action that wins him his “adulthood,” and brings the security he’s always sought to himself and those for whom he cares.