New Release Spotlight | The Summer of Robert Byron by Steven Arnett

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The Summer of Robert Byron

by Steven Arnett

Publication Date: August 12th 2017
Published by:  Independent


It’s fall 1966, and Robert Byron has returned to his home town of Blue Spring in Michigan after serving in Vietnam.

Everyone there tries to welcome him home, but he’s unsocial and ends up alienating almost everyone. He pretty much keeps to himself through the winter, until the money he’d saved up in Vietnam runs outs, and he has to go back to work. He meets Jean Summers, a teacher at Blue Spring High School who’d just started her teaching career the previous fall herself, when Robert is hired by her landlord to do some work on the house she’s renting.

They’re complete opposites in personality, but somehow, they’re attracted to each other anyway. The Summer of Robert Byron is their story: Of how Jean tries to redeem through love Robert’s alienation and the dark secret that he has brought home with him from the war. Can she succeed or is it too late to ever really bring him home again?


As Robert Byron walked through the jungle, he was sweating unbearably. He was being attacked by what seemed like an endless army of horseflies. The odors, sweet sour rotten putrid, he hated. Somehow he’d gotten separated from the other men in his platoon, and after days in the jungle, he was half crazy. They must think I’m dead, he thought, or somebody would have found me by now. He wasn’t hungry, even though he was so weak from lack of food he could barely walk. And even though his stomach was empty, he felt like vomiting. Intense pain he felt from being bitten by fire ants for days. He was walking on a trail, but he really had no idea where it led anymore. He thought he might have heard a helicopter far off in the distance but knew he could have dreamed it, that it could have been an echo from a thousand helicopters he had heard since he got to Vietnam. He felt completely detached from the entire life he had known and lived until a few days ago. His might as well have been on an alien planet. His memories of people seemed more like ghosts than real as he walked, terrified that he would step on a mine or that Vietcong would come out of jungle from nowhere and obliterate him with bullets or machetes. Whatever courage he’d had was long gone. He hated feeling like a coward because he’d had it drilled into his head from the time he was three years old to hate cowards. He’d seen how they were laughed at and despised. He wondered how much farther he could go before he collapsed into certain death.

He’d been a great athlete in high school, maybe the best his town had ever had, but now he had a hard time even walking. Then suddenly he came near a clearing and saw a peasant in a rice field with a water buffalo, and for a moment the scene seemed peaceful and wonderful. Except for some soft white clouds, the sky was blue. He moved around the clearing, slowly, quietly, still terrified, doubting again if he would ever get back home alive. Images of his mother and father and his sister Sarah came into his mind. Maybe they think I’m dead like the thousands of other guys here they’ll never find, he thought. Time seemed to stop as he stared almost catatonic at the peasant with the buffalo in the rice paddy and thought how even in the most terrible war, everyday life goes on. Survival. He must survive. He must live and go home again.

He remembered a story his grandfather had told him that his grandfather told him about being in a camp in the Civil War and Grant coming into the camp, everything in chaos, Grant barking out orders and how in a short time everything calmed down, everything became organized. Maybe, maybe back then war had a purpose and was heroic, not like this nightmare of jungle and fire ants and blood and death, fighting for people who hate you.

Finally he started walking again, just far enough from the clearing so no one could have seen him, thirstier than life itself because the water in his canteen had run out a long time ago and it hadn’t rained in days, and he hadn’t come to any rivers or streams. He thought about getting water from the rice field and his thirst blinded him, made him so he could think of nothing else but water and overcame his fear. He drank from it, without, he thought, being seen. He walked slowly around the field and came near a hamlet. On one side of it he saw a woman and an old man by a bamboo shack, and a girl and a boy playing in the dust, so near he could hear them speaking the Vietnamese that he’d heard endlessly for months but still hardly understood a word of. He felt around the wood barrel and steel of his M-16 rifle. He wondered what the odds were that the family would be friendly and considered his chances. In any case, he knew he couldn’t go on much longer. He was dazed and completely disoriented. Half in illusion, half because of some kind of twisted intuition, he went out of the jungle toward the family with his gun pointed toward them. He could see the shock on their face, the same shock and fear he felt himself perhaps. They were about 10 yards away. The boy, about 10 years old perhaps, pulled something out of his worn frayed gown with a half smile half frown. They must have seen me drinking water, Robert thought. He was sure the boy had a grenade in his hand and would kill him. He leveled his rifle, pulled the trigger, and watched as the boy lurched back and was blown to the ground and blood poured out of him. Robert smelled the smoke of the gun and the stink of the jungle and felt a sickness that would never go away. 

About the author

Steven Arnett was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1951 and enjoys writing fiction and poetry. He attended Michigan State University and the University of Maine. He currently lives in Luxembourg with his wife, Delphine, and daughter, Vivienne.

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