This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to grieve someone. It’s a little bit like a black hole. It’s a little bit like infinity.
Gottie H. Oppenheimer is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she’s hurtled through wormholes to her past:
To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. To the day her best friend Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.
Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are about to collide—and someone’s heart is about to be broken.
Q: Your book speaks eloquently about the nature of grief and how people and relationships slip away from us. Without giving away any spoilers, Gottie experiences wormholes and ‘screenwipes’ as she revisits past experiences; how important to you think it is to face our past, even when it’s uncomfortable and especially in times of grief? How do you think this can benefit us?
A: It’s important to acknowledge your past, and to not hide from it or deny it – but I
think it’s equally important not to dwell there. You know, you can live in your memories and hark back to better times or what once was, and it means you’re not living in the present.
That’s really my feeling about the book and what Gottie’s doing – you have to let go of the past in order to live. You can’t freeze or stop time and say, this, here, right now, this is happiness. You just have to let time slip by and be aware that life is ever-changing; you get moments of happiness and moments of darkness, and each of those will pass, and things will get better, or worse, again. And you just have to keep going.
Grief is a powerful thing. It can rip us out of our very existence, and it can cause us to behave in ways we never thought possible. Nowhere is this more evident than in Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s The Square Rot of Summer, a quirky, funny, heart-wrenching, complicated and dizzying book about loss, love and those places in-between.
Gottie is a completely fascinating character. Submerged in grief after the loss of her grandfather, we soon realize that she’s mourning more than just a part of her family. The return of her childhood friend Thomas after abruptly disappearing from her life and the recent distancing by her crush Jason has upset her ordered world even more, and Gottie finds herself in a place where she really doesn’t know who or where she is any more. Literally, as it appears, as she begins to travel through time and wormholes, experiencing different moments of her past again before jumping back to the present.
I felt for Gottie. She’s smart, but recognizes that she’s always been a little apart from everyone else. Having lost her mother, then her best friend, then her first boyfriend and then her grandfather has created a hole in her life that she doesn’t know how to fill. Her grief goes deeper than she can recognize, and it takes a while before she – and the reader – can truly acknowledge what has caused these jumps in time for her. I loved reading about her relationship with Sof, and with her brother, and how she had distanced herself because that’s what you do when you are hurt. You pull away in order to make sense of the world again.
“At their most basic level, wormholes are time machines, powered by dark matter and negative energy. And what’s darker than heartbreak? Here’s a theory: the twin hurts of Jason and Grey rocked me so much, time broke down. The rules no longer apply”
Hapgood has a knack for creating vivid and tangible setting in her writing. I could feel the shifts in the air as the weather changed, and my skin recognized the feel of cool rain and wet grass simply from her descriptions. Gottie’s life is filled with textures – sounds from her brother’s love of music, tastes from Thomas’ baking, scents from the used bookstore and temperatures from the shifting weather – and these are all passed on to us as observers, drawing us in even as Gottie’s rather complex maths assignment may bewilder us with its brilliance at times.
Some of the secondary characters are brilliant – Sof, with her ever-changing roster of hysterical girl-band names, Grey, whom we meet through his cryptic journals and scraps of remembered advice by Gottie, and Thomas, the mysterious baking best friend who means something more. Others are mere cyphers, including her father who has existed in a fog since the loss of his wife and her brother, Ned, who is also searching through music for the person he is meant to become. I wanted more from them – I wanted them to be more for Gottie – but I realize that we only see them from Gottie’s own fragmented memory, and perhaps that’s okay in the end. She keeps secrets, our Gottie, and tells lies when she’s not ready to share the truth, as we all do, so sometimes things need to stay hidden.
There’s a lot to love about this book, and a lot that will leave your head spinning in the very best of ways. Hapgood cleverly weaves her story within the tenants of math and quantum physics, mixing romance and grief with equal aplomb. This is a book that is worth staying with right until the end, because what you’ll discover is something kind of amazing about the universe, the power of memory and love and about moving on.
A copy of The Square Root of Summer was provided by Raincoast Books as part of this blog tour; all opinions are my own. My thanks to Raincoast Books and to the author for their time and answers to my questions. Be sure to stop by the other blogs on this tour for their Q&As and reviews! A copy may be purchased from your favourite indie bookstore, big bookstore or online retailer. ISBN: 9781626723733, 304 pages.