Stanley Ellin's Dreadful Summit (alternate title The Big Night) is a 1948 crime novel narrated by a sixteen year old boy who vows vengeance against a powerful man who injured his father. It's set in post-WWII New York City.

In many ways this book reminded me of Catcher in the Rye (partly because both books take place in NYC within one 24 hour period and have young, naive male narrators). The protagonist, one George LaMain, is a few years younger than Holden but both share the same sort of quixotic tendency. George has no mother and lives with his father, above the bar in which his father owns. George is a bookish sort who spends a lot of time reading. One of his favorites is Kim. George also lacks Holden's potty-mouth, which is likely due to the fact that his author was a Quaker

The title of this book is taken from a line by Horatio to Hamlet, after the latter declares he shall follow the ghost of his father

What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff . . .

At one point Ellin describes a character enjoying "a glass of seltzer and chocolate" rather than an egg cream, which I found puzzling. That oddity aside, there is a bit of old-timey slang throughout.

Joseph Losey directed a film adaptation of this book under the title "The Big Night" in 1951.

I bought this book at a bookstore because I thought that the author was Stanley Elkin. Didn't read it for years, out of disappointment. It was surprisingly good with lots of ethical knots. The prose is crisply efficient, as Ellin cut his teeth as writing short stories before this. This was his first novel.

128 pages

Published by Penguin

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