(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of Kay Boyle’s stories written while she was a foreign correspondent for The New Yorker, the events of “Summer Evening” take place during the post World War II reconstruction of Germany under the American occupation. The story relates the events of a cocktail party given by one Major Hatches and his wife. Their guests include military officers, government personnel, and their spouses. Although little action occurs during the course of the story, as the party progresses, the reader is introduced to a variety of sharply etched characters and is permitted to overhear their various conversations.

As the story opens, Major Hatches comments to Lieutenant Pearson about choosing a Hausmeister: “You have to be as careful about who you take as a Hausmeister as who you marry. . . . You have him underfoot twenty-four hours every day of the week.” Hatches is cruel in his remarks concerning the Hausmeister’s desperation, exemplified by his having to retrieve cigarette stubs for his own use. Pearson continues the discussion by relating the story of a fellow in Nuremberg who would drop his butts out the window so that his Hausmeister would have to crawl through the shrubbery for them.

Marcia Cruickshank, the flirtatious wife of Captain Cruickshank, is one of the lonely, unhappy Americans among this ensemble of characters. Unlike another member of this party, Wendy Forsythe, who is unhappy in her realization of humankind’s cruelty to its fellow creatures, Mrs. Cruickshank is unhappy because of her own empty life. She gets so drunk, as she does at all the social gatherings she attends, that she openly seduces the young man in the blue...

(The entire section is 685 words.)