Wildfell Summer: Brontë Rock-and-Roll Fantasy Camp

Many modern authors have been inspired to write stories based on the Brontës' characters. Few, however, have been as inspired as Tracy Neis, who is (as of this review) in the process of publishing her fourth such book.

Neis's "Rock-and-Roll Brontë Series" began with Mr. R — A Rock and Roll Romance, a reimagination of Jane Eyre built around rocker Eddie Rochester, guitarist for the Pilots. Next came Restless Spirits, a ghost story involving a different Pilots member and characters inspired by Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey.

I recently (summer 2021) read book three in the series, Wildfell Summer. It came as no surprise that this novel features yet another Pilots musician (the drummer, Gerry) and some familiar characters from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

The reader must quickly suspend disbelief, as the main vehicle through which those disparate people interact is magic — a potion that repeatedly enables Gerry (and later some bandmates) to leave their 1967 concert tour and enter the Wildfell timeline. The band's chief drink-and-drugs maven, Gerry finds himself drawn to the other world to keep sampling Arthur Huntington's laudanum (an opiate). He gradually bonds with Arthur, a kindred spirit of sorts, not realizing that his newfound friend is headed down a path of debauchery, cruelty, and self-destruction.

Gerry's repeated poor judgment and bad choices remind me of the way Branwell Brontë is depicted in To Walk Invisible. Their behaviors grow similarly tiresome, but at least we see Gerry taking steps toward some sort of redemption.

While Arthur is the main Wildfell-ian in Neis's tale, others also appear, including Gilbert and Helen. Neis is generally up to the challenge of making the mid-1800's dialogue believable. Throughout the book, her lively prose could occasionally use some tightening, but the plot moves at a fair pace.

The other Brontë/rock novel I reviewed, April Lindner's Jane, came across as an overly serious attempt to write heart-tugging fiction. On the seriousness scale, Wildfell Summer falls about midway between that earnestness and the delightful goofiness of Air Jane. Instead of literary pretensions, Neis offers us a playful story about two realms that many of us have dreamed of experiencing: rock stardom and Brontë World. Fans of Anne's story will likely be drawn into this colorful take on Arthur and company.