In this instance, the surprise hit movie came first. The novel, by the screenwriter, goes beyond mere adaptation, and tells the story in a more elaborate and engaging manner. Both capture a time and, more importantly, a state of being that transcends any era. Both suffer from sentimentality, but nevertheless entertain even those critical of nostalgia.
Director: Robert Mulligan
Writer: Herman Raucher.
In 1942, World War II raged across Europe and over the Pacific. The conflict profoundly affected North Americans, but the shooting happened overseas. People lost lives and lives were rearranged, but the home front sacrifices paled beside those made in countries under daily fire. In the Summer of '42, the war is never far away, but the three Jewish teenagers at the film's centre can relax on the beach, complain about the lack of activity, and wonder about sex. Death surrounds them, but they experience no imminent danger, save growing pains and adolescent embarrassments.
Released in 1971, the film accurately recreates an eastern seaboard island--- ostensibly Nantucket-- thirty years earlier. Hermie and Oscy, shy of sixteen, think more about girls than the ongoing war. Nerdy Benjy, seemingly younger and certainly socially less mature, clutters their plans, but he does provide a book on matters sexual from his parents' summer home. The boys crib notes, and Oscy, all drive and no emotional understanding, takes it upon himself to lose his virginity, and see that Hermie loses his, too. The filmmakers deserve credit for casting actual teenagers, something Hollywood seems absurdly reluctant to do, and the actors deserve credit for exceptional performances.
Despite dalliances with girls his own age, Hermie finds himself drawn to a young war bride named Dorothy. The movie's great triumph: it makes the relationship which develops seem entirely plausible, but never sleazy. Dorothy has nothing in common with Stiffler's Mom from American Pie; she's a lonely, grieving woman, not many years older than the teenage boy who loves her.
The film's first-person narrative voice-over started a trend. Apart from being overused in nostalgia movies and tv shows made since, the technique adds little to this movie. In particular, I find the final voice-over tells us what we already should have realized.
While it suffers from the shadow cast by 1971's The Last Picture Show, this understated film drew a broad audience. It proved an unexpected hit, raking in many times its budget. Summer of '42 also garnered Oscar and Writer's Guild Award nominations for best original screenplay, birthed a sequel, Class of '44, and became a best-selling novel.
Herman Raucher had already written novels, so it's hardly surprising that he would adapt his successful screenplay to that form. Summer of '42 followed the film closely, and sold very well throughout the 1970s. It can be read in very little time, and it captures Hermie more thoroughly than the movie could. Raucher further explores the ambivalent feelings of adolescence, and develop Hermie's acerbic observations of life.
Raucher adds events, and develops key scenes from the movie, most notably the key comic moments. Hermie's inept purchase of condoms at a small-town pharmacy works well onscreen, but we can both sympathize and laugh even more at the novel's more detailed depiction. Some moments, essentially unchanged, play better on page. For example, Hermie memorizes impressive conversational titbits while heading to Dorothy's, and then delivers them at inappropriate times. The characters' reactions, however funny onscreen, play better when we imagine them.
The novel may not rank among the lasting masterpieces of literature, but it remains a quick, entertaining read.
Summer of '42 had its heyday in the 1970s, beginning a trend of productions which tried to capture youthful coming of age in the recent past. Such films and TV shows hoped to reach both the people who remembered the past era, and the people who were experiencing the same feelings a generation later. A 2002 musical based on Summer of '42 flopped disastrously. The film, however, still makes appearances on television. The book has been republished many times, by many houses, with many ISBNs, and can be found in second-hand stores and libraries across the Americas.