book reviews by Althea

Summerlong – Peter S. Beagle ****

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Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Both the feel and particulars of this book reminded me quite a lot of Patricia McKillip’s more recent stories, where she explores a contemporary setting impinged upon by mythic elements. (If you liked ‘Kingfisher,’ or ‘Mer,’ don’t miss this one!
It’s also kind of a fantasy for older people. I feel like it probably would’ve resonated with me far more strongly if I were 20 years later in life, and I fear that younger readers probably won’t enjoy it at all.

Joanna and Abe are an older, long-term couple whose relationship has been loving but has also depended on a certain amount of distance. Joanna’s job as a flight attendant means she’s frequently away, and Abe has his own house, and takes plenty of time for his writing and academic research.
The setting also feels distant – an island on the outskirts of Seattle. The sense of foggy isolation that the location lends the narrative feels very appropriate to the story.

At their local diner, the couple meet a new waitress – a young and alluring woman. By the end of their meal, they’ve discovered that she doesn’t have a real place to live, and Joanna is urging Abe to let the quirkily-named Lioness (Lyonesse?) stay in his garage. This over-the-top act of generosity seems a bit out-of-character – but soon we realize that people just seem to be compelled to do whatever they can for Lioness. Who is she, really? Just a free-spirited hippie wanderer, as she seems to be – or something more rich and strange?

Ancient gods and myth (particularly that of Demeter and Persephone) weave a skein of the otherworldly into a contemplative exploration into the dynamics of mature relationships. And even when the gods mean no harm, it’s hard to survive the aftermath of their touch.

Also inspired by this painting:

Many thanks to Tachyon and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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