In the wake of a tragic accident, a young college student haunted by guilt moves to New York City to shake the past and discover his destiny.
After three years at Temple University, Dan Egan was still trying to find out who he was. Frustratingly unmoored, he moved from engineering to fine arts and finally to humanities, plowed under each time. He was the one in the back row, sleeping behind dark glasses—the “ivy beleaguered” dilettante soon to be adrift in the very real world of working men.
Now, following his expulsion after a tragic dorm fire, Dan has finally been defined. He’s the guy who failed to save his roommate—all-American football hero, Time magazine’s golden cover boy, and Dan’s best friend since childhood. Maybe Dan will take the midnight train to Philadelphia and weather the worst of the family storm. Maybe not. Wherever Dan’s headed, he’ll be carrying his buddy’s ghost.
Then he meets the Barbara Jean Avery, the dumb, sweet still-virginal child bride of a dangerous old crust named Michael. She reads movie magazines, flounces around Coney Island, and has Technicolor dreams that will never come true. Dan’s got a thing for her; maybe she can make his dreams come true. Without even trying, without even realizing, Barbara Jean and Michael are going to change Dan’s life.
A novel that flirts with the mysteries of being human—from the comic to the sexual to the tragic—The Winter After This Summer is a singular work in the canon of a three-time Edgar Award–winning author, a late coming-of-age story written with a fierce and respectful regard for man’s fate.
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About the Author
Stanley Ellin (1916–1986) was an American mystery writer known primarily for his short stories. After working a series of odd jobs including dairy farmer, salesman, steel worker, and teacher, and serving in the US Army, Ellin began writing full time in 1946. Two years later, his story “The Specialty of the House” won the Ellery Queen Award for Best First Story. He went on to win three Edgar Awards—two for short stories and one for his novel The Eighth Circle. In 1981, Ellin was honored with the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award. He died of a heart attack in Brooklyn in 1986.
Read an Excerpt
The Winter After This Summer
By Stanley Ellin
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1960 Stanley Ellin
All rights reserved.
It began as it would end, with a Messenger calling for me.
In the hottest June of the hottest 1953 that I can remember he wandered downstairs and upstairs crying through the house for Egan — Egan — Daniel Egan, while I roosted in the upper bunk of the least room on the topmost floor of Stowe Hall and listened. Outside, lawn mowers chattered. Outside, footsteps crunched on gravel and then stopped. Someone said: "I'm all screwed up. How do you figure daylight-saving time on a sundial?" and someone else said: "Don't worry about it, we'll get a court. But, for God's sake, will you play the lousy net when I'm at the base line? Play the net!" and they went off to play the net and the base line.
Inside, the Messenger plaintively called my name. Inside, water hissed in the lavatory next door where Maunsell Davis was shaving his goatish face. Then the water was turned off, and the face appeared before me, half-lathered, dripping bright red drops of blood.
"Somebody's looking for you, Egan," said Maunsell Davis. "Why don't you tell him you're here?"
So they handled it in Stowe Hall unlike Iobacchoi, where each man tended his own accounts. But he was all Stowe Hall, was Maunsell Davis, and all pre-med. A literal mind in a sound body. I had been rooming with him for thirty-six hours, and knew, even while he was whittling his jaw in the lavatory, that thirty-seven would be one too many.
I said: "Why the hell don't you mind your own business, Davis? If the man's bothering you, tell him to go away."
He looked shocked, this bleeding pre-med from Terre Haute. There were pictures of his mother and father on the dresser, twin blocks of granite, and they looked shocked, too. They narrowed their goaty eyes at me and pursed their little mouths and let me know it.
"Well, that's a fine way to talk, Egan," said Maunsell Davis. "I wasn't the one invited you in here."
And then the Messenger was there looking at us. "Egan," he said, "didn't you hear me calling you? And what is this? Aren't you even dressed yet? I told you to be there at two; it's after that now."
If he said so, it was so. And if I asked him how much after, he would know to the minute. Up from the New York Times, through Madison Avenue, and into his mission as director of public relations for the University he was always on the ball. Always looking at his wrist watch. Always getting things done despite the uncertain material he had to work with. And poor Bertram Roebuck, seersuckered, Ivy-beleaguered, and sweating, never had more uncertain material to work with than he did now.
I said: "I'll be ready in a few minutes. Just leave me alone, and I'll meet you there," and Roebuck said with great cunning, "No, I'll wait right here." He looked at Maunsell Davis. "If you don't mind, I'd like to talk to Egan privately. We'll be out of here right away, anyhow."
"Fine," said Maunsell Davis, "the sooner the better," and slammed the door behind him as he left.
Roebuck regarded the door speculatively. "What's that all about?" he said. "Have they been giving you a bad time here?"
"No." I slid down from the bunk and started to dress while Roebuck sat down on a chair to watch. The way he kept those bright, stupid eyes fixed on me made me think of the kind of guard they put on someone who's being made ready for execution.
"Have you seen the papers?" he asked.
"No? Well, this thing is all over them. It's fantastic how they're giving it the front page. New York, Chicago, the Coast — absolutely fantastic. Trouble is, everything else is so quiet right now. The election's over, the inauguration's over, the war is just about over — so something like this can get all the play. And, of course, from the angle of the reading public Ben Gennaro was as much of a hero as they could ask for, and what happened to him — Say, I hope you don't mind my talking about it like this, do you?"
"Why? Would it make any difference if I did?"
"No, I suppose it wouldn't. But let me straighten you out, Egan, in case you've got the idea I'm some kind of insensitive hulk who doesn't understand what you're going through."
"I never said that."
"You don't have to. As it happens, I do understand, and that's one reason I've arranged things this way. Right now there are a dozen reporters and photographers waiting in the Administration Building to get this story straight. If you want them chasing you around the campus or ringing your doorbell all day when you get back home, that's up to you. But you're a fool if you resent a chance to get everything cleared up at a nice, well-arranged press conference. I've handled hundreds of these things in my time. You can take my word for it, you're in good hands.
"As far as the publicity goes, all right, it's an uncomfortable spot to be in, but I'm not the one who put you there. And you'll be surprised to find how short people's memories are. The day after Ben's funeral the whole thing'll be forgotten. Not by anyone close to him, of course, but by the great unwashed. That's how it goes. They eat sensation along with their Wheaties every morning, but it's got to be fresh sensation. Now, when you look at it from that angle can you give me any reason why you shouldn't co-operate?"
It was nice to know that he cared. I said: "Am I being given a choice?"
"No, as a matter of fact, you're not. But that's because there's more to consider here than you or me, or any little personal problems. There's the University, Egan. It's been here two hundred years, and it'll be here another two hundred, if — if, my friend — it gets proper alumni support. The Committee on Gifts and Bequests has a tough job to do. It isn't made any easier by having something in the wind that could discourage the alumni from shelling out when the time comes. That might sound pretty crass and materialistic to you, Egan, because you're a bright young fellow full of idealistic poop, but one of my onerous duties is to work with the Committee, and that's why I'm telling you you have no choice in the matter. As far as that goes, you ought to be properly grateful to the alumni, Egan. If it wasn't for them, there wouldn't be any University here. You'd be going to State College just the way I and the rest of the common herd did. Does that answer your question?"
It did. His official title was director of public relations, but in reality he was, as Ben used to call him to his face, the publicity man, the king of the bull-throwers. And it was easy to see why he was blowing off this way. He had been trapped by vanity into taking a job with the University, but he was alien to the decorum it preached and peddled. What he needed was the rousing, carefree atmosphere of some coed college full of luscious drum majorettes. Getting camera shots up from the ground at a crotch straining against silk panties was his medium, and what, he must have mourned many a time, was he doing in this Episcopal and wholly masculine limbo?
More than that, he had been living off Ben for two years, and now there were lean years ahead. Ben had been hard for him to take, but he had made great copy. Where was the copy coming from now that Ben was gone, and there were no drum majorettes in sight? It was enough to make you cry.
I said: "Will Ben's family be there?"
"No, that was cleared up this morning. They're all at the hotel now. His mother's taking it hard, but the rest of them seem to be bearing up all right. His sister asked about you, by the way. Say, have you been drinking?"
I shook my head.
"Well, you look pretty green and glassy-eyed to me. Here, let me smell your breath."
I was surprised to see that he meant it. He got up from his chair and came over to me, and I said with as much control as I could, "God damn it, do you think I have to be drunk to look like this after what happened?"
He didn't even have the sense to look embarrassed. "Don't be so touchy, Egan. All I said was that you looked terrible." One of Davis' towels was on top of the dresser, and he handed it to me. "Go on, freshen up some. Use plenty of cold water; maybe that'll help. And whatever you do, don't take that tone with those reporters. Keep your voice down, don't make any wisecracks or sarcastic remarks, because every word you say can be printed as fact. And those photographers are quick on the trigger, so don't let them catch you smiling."
"Smiling at what?"
"I know, I know, but you'd be surprised the way people can get caught smiling at the damndest times. Something happens, somebody says something, and there you are. And the way it looks in the papers, you could be laughing because you've just heard your mother dropped dead. Remember that."
"I'll remember it."
"All right then. I'll wait for you while you're in the can, but if you're not out in five minutes I'm coming in after you. We're half an hour late as it is, and they don't even have an air-conditioner in that room."
When I went into the lavatory, Davis, who was sitting there on one of the cans reading a soggy magazine, did not look up or say anything to me. He was not a prepossessing figure at best. Seen this way with a scrap of toilet paper stuck against a nick on his chin he looked more than ever like an abstracted goat. Still, willingly or unwillingly, he had allowed me to share his room for a day and a night; we had broken bread together — a sandwich that he had brought from the cafeteria for my breakfast — and it was not altogether his fault that he looked the way he did, and spoke with a querulous twang that grated on the nerves like a file drawn over the teeth, and expressed only trite thoughts in dull words. Or dull thoughts in trite words. Not his fault at all, if you took into account those two pictures on his dresser. So when I had finished washing up I said, "The room's all yours, Davis. It was decent of you to let me bunk with you."
He did me the favor of lowering the magazine and looking up at me. "Go to hell," he said.
"I'm on my way now," I told him.
Considering what Ben was — had been — the field house or the gym would have seemed the place for a press conference. I don't know why Roebuck had wangled the Founder's Room for it; I suppose he thought that this sanctum sanctorum, this tabernacle to the hallowed past, might, through the sweet majesty of its paneled walls, its Chippendale, its Copley portrait of the Founder over the marble-fronted fireplace, lead his reporters to spurn the coarse typewriter for the gracious quill. It was quite possible that he thought this. He had the small, devious mind for it.
Whatever his intentions, the only one among the crowd in the room who didn't look hot and bored was Noel Claiborne, who looked cool and bored. He was standing with Ossie Detzendorf in front of the fireplace under the Copley, and I thought, what a wonderful subject he would have made for Copley, the patrician snottiness of him, the fine-hewn profile of him. The later Copley, of course. The one who took off when the vulgar Revolution washed its bloody, muddy waters through the Boston streets, and who wound up in England painting pretty pictures where he didn't have to smell the plebs. That was the Copley who would never have painted the Founder that the early Copley did, hard-eyed and soft-lipped in his clerical robe and stock, a man who relished his roast beef and Madeira as much as he relished his Bible, and who fathered thirteen, three of whom lived past their first year. They made giants in those days; now they made Noel Claiborne.
He looked at me and through me as I came up to him, and I saw with pleasure that his fair smooth skin had a bruised look to it. I had been lurching sick, half blind when I had done that. I had not even been sure I had managed to do it, so it was good to see the evidence at hand. Or fist. It must have surprised him more than it hurt him when it happened. Bound to, y'know, when instead of going into an empty room with a silver-mounted pistol to blow my brains out, I had tried to knock his out. Although what would have come out of his shell-like skull had I succeeded is hard to conjecture. Probably a pallid ooze stained with blue blood.
He looked at me and through me, and Ossie Detzendorf, who was certainly the best football coach the University had as long as Ben was on the team, looked at me and said, "This is a terrible thing, Egan. I'm sick about it."
"Yes," I said, "I know," and I did. He had been living off Ben the way Roebuck had, and more luxuriously at that. Few of the alumni would recognize Roebuck's name, but all knew Detzendorf's. Glory be for winning teams, said they, and without Ben to make miracles for him on blazing autumn Saturdays he had cause to weep. He had hated Ben as much as Ben had hated him, but de mortuis was the word now, and, for God's sake, somebody do something. Find me another curly-haired hero who can make everybody's all-American, because they don't hang the losing coaches in effigy here. They hang them by their own thick red necks.
The yawn of reporters gathered around us, and Roebuck said to them, "Well, you've already had a chance to talk to Ben's family, and now these people here may help you round out the picture of the — ah — tragedy. I guess you all know Oscar Detzendorf, our football coach and one of Ben's best friends in the University. And this is Noel Claiborne, president of Iobacchoi, where the — ah — sad event happened, and this is Daniel Egan, who was Ben's roommate. Now, if you have any questions —"
They had questions.
"Hey, Egan, where've you been hiding out?"
"Who put you in cold storage, Egan? What are they afraid of around here?"
"Was Gennaro drunk when it happened?"
"What's the stuff in the local paper about an orgy in that frat house?"
Noel Claiborne's aristocratic nostrils flared. "That is gross libel. You gentlemen ought to know that there are local idiots who think every fraternity party is an orgy, and a local press that panders to that idiocy. Our party was certainly not an orgy. It was the annual celebration we hold at the end of each spring term and entirely respectable. Not only was my sister there, but Ben's as well. I don't think we're quite degenerate enough to run wild with our families on the scene. Not quite."
A flash bulb went off, and while we were blinking at it someone behind the photographer said, "What's this Iobacchoi, anyhow?"
Claiborne said: "The name comes from a Greek fraternal order of the classic age. We have twenty-four members and no national affiliations. We also happen to be the oldest fraternity in the University."
"Strictly the élite?" someone asked with unmistakable intent, but Claiborne had not been elected Arch-Bacchos without reason.
"Iobacchoi does not practice discrimination," he said. "Catholics and Jews are on our membership rolls right now. Ben Gennaro himself was a devout Catholic."
A devout football star, he meant. The greatest. And with a sister who by fluttering long, dark lashes could warm even the Claiborne cockles. As for Jack Goldfarb, Iobacchoi's pet Jew, he may not have played football or had a sister, but he didn't have to. His father was governor of the state and not likely to be unseated during Claiborne's administration.
"What about you, Egan?" a reporter said. "You were sleeping in the same room as Gennaro when the fire started. If he wasn't drunk, how come he didn't get through that window along with you?"
A flash bulb went off in my face.
"Hey, Egan, didn't you even try to get him out of bed?"
Another flash bulb went off in my face. Flash bulbs don't make any noise, yet these thundered inside of my head. I twisted away from them, closed my eyes against their light, and Roebuck said loudly, "Now, fellows, fellows, let's not cut throats here. I asked Egan to do you this favor —"
"Who's doing who favors, Roebuck?"
"Go on, let the kid speak for himself."
"Hey, Egan, give us the full face, kid. How about the fire? When did you first know about it?"
Roebuck gripped my arm. "What's the matter?" he whispered hoarsely. "You can talk, can't you? That's what you're here for, isn't it?"
I couldn't talk.
"You made that deposition for the medical examiner, didn't you?" said Roebuck. "Just tell them the same thing."
They were close around me now, pressing in from all sides. "What about it, Egan? When did you first know about the fire?"
I said: "I heard some noise. Yelling. I woke up and I could smell the smoke."
"Then I opened the door, and I saw all the smoke and some flames coming up the stairway. So I went out of the window. It's only on the second floor, so I hung on the sill by my hands and then dropped down. That's all."
"What do you mean, that's all? What about Gennaro? Didn't you know he was in the room with you?"
Excerpted from The Winter After This Summer by Stanley Ellin. Copyright © 1960 Stanley Ellin. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPART ONE Daniel Egan,
PART TWO Barbara-Jean Avery,
PART THREE Michael Avery,
PART FOUR Daniel Egan,