Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
Retired history professor Abe Aronson is a cranky, solitary man living out his autumn years on Gardner Island, a ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Seattle. One rainy February night, while dining at a favorite local haunt, Abe and his girlfriend Joanna meet an engaging enigmatic waitress, new in town and without a place of her own. Fascinated and moved by the girl’s plight, Joanna invites her to stay in Abe’s garage. It seems everyone falls for the charming and invigorating the waitress, but she is much more than she appears, and an ancient covenant made a millennium ago threatens to disrupt the spring and alter the lives of Abe, Joanna, and all those around them forever… (via Goodreads)
The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite books. I reread it every two or three years. Like many of my generation, my familiarity with the story began as a kid with The Last Unicorn movie. I saw it in the theater in 1982 with my grandpa. It wasn’t until college (and bookstores more impressive than Walden Books at the mall) that I finally read the book and began collecting Peter S. Beagle’s back list. In the 2000s, with a new business manager, Beagle started publishing again. Since 2006, there have been three collections of short works, some other miscellanea, and the award-winning novette, “Two Hearts,” a sequel to The Last Unicorn. But it’s been 17 years since Beagle’s last full-length novel.
Summerlong is, of course, a much different novel than The Last Unicorn. It is very much a middle-aged story. Abe and Joanna are set in their lives. Abe, the older of the two, is entering the winter of his life. Joanne, eleven years younger, seems content to continue on as things are. The third character in this novel’s starting situation is Lily, Joanna’s gay daughter. Lily is struggling in her life. Joanna doesn’t seem to know how to help her and is maybe disinclined to engage in Lily’s drama.
Into this trio comes Lioness Lazos. The crux of this story should be the mystery behind Lioness Lazo. She is a young woman of classical beauty who seems to maybe hold some supernatural sway over nature. She is undoubtedly on the run from someone. But the resolution of the mystery takes a backseat to how our trio of characters react to her. Both Abe and Lily are infatuated by her. Joanna feels some level of maternal protectiveness toward Lioness, but it’s her life that is upended the most by the young woman. Many of the summaries for Summerlong emphasize Abe as the main character, but I think this is much more Joanna’s story. When I reread this novel, and I undoubtedly will, it will be with Joanna in mind.
This is a slowly told story and, sometimes, it feels like it lacks focus. The turning of the seasons is an important part of this novel, but I felt like there needed a stronger chronological basis. The dates at the beginnings of the chapters didn’t seem to reflect the passing of time in the story. (I wonder if this was a problem with the ARC.)
Is Summerlong a novel for fans of The Last Unicorn? Maybe, maybe not. It is definitely for fans of Peter S. Beagle. Fortunately for both types of fans, September brings a feast. The September/October issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine includes “The Green-Eyed Boy,” one of the long-rumored Schmenrick stories. It’s good, but of course it is.
At this point, I feel I should include some mention of the controversy between Beagle and his former business manager Connor Cochran. Peter S. Beagle filed suit against Cochran last year. There are also ongoing complaints from fans who have purchased items from Conlan Press, but never received products. I would advise that if you’re going to buy any of Peter S. Beagle’s books, do not do so from Conlan Press and avoid ebooks edited by Connor Cochran.
Publishing info, my copy: ePub format, Tachyon Publications, September 2016
Acquired: ARC from NetGalley
Genre: fantasy, magical realism