One of the first movies I can remember being enamored with as a little girl is The Last Unicorn, which was based on the book by Peter S. Beagle. I liked it then because it had unicorns and magic, and I liked it when I got older because of the underlying theme of liking yourself as you are, and not getting trapped by vanity and a quest for beauty. So, you can imagine my delight when I was given the chance to read Mr. Beagle’s newest book prior to its release! I sat down to read with very high expectations, and Mr. Beagle definitely delivered, but in one major way, I was left bitterly disappointed.
I was entranced by the characters in Summerlong, all of whom are complicated and well drawn. They are neither all good, nor all bad, making them relatable and realistic. My favorite was the gritty and fiercely independent Joanna, followed closely by her gentleman friend of many years, Abe. Their relationship was so comfortable and genuine, that perfect mix of trust and intimacy…seeming to be what couples should aspire to. It was a relationship to make a reader smile and nod. Until it wasn’t, which is what led to my disappointment.
Just as I instinctively liked Joanna and Abe, I found myself not trusting the mysterious Lioness; she was just too manipulative for me, her sweetness and tragedy seeming too contrived. My feelings regarding her were borne out when her real identity was revealed, and in her huge act of betrayal towards the end of the book that made me decide that I definitely did not — and could not– sympathize with her (this action is one of the things about the book that really disappointed me, even though it validated my feelings about her). However, there was one thing I liked about Lioness, which was that I was unable to immediately guess her true identity, or the identity of the man she was running from. Once I did know who she was, her selfishness made sense, but still failed to arouse any feelings of sympathy for her. In fact, in the end I think I felt more sympathy for the man who was chasing her, because he seemed more concerned with honor and maintaining balance in the world, than did the flighty Lioness.
Overall, the plot of the story flowed well, and the few times that my interest started to wane, I was easily drawn back in. As his fans will know, Mr. Beagle is a masterful story teller, providing rich detail and depth of feeling in almost every scene, and Summerlong is no exception. For example, although I have never been to Puget Sound, I developed a very detailed image of it, and of the characters, thanks to the rich descriptions provided. I could easily picture Lioness wading into the water to converse with a baby whale, or Joanna traversing the sound with her daughter in an insignificant kayak, as they were buffeted by rain and wind. Deep themes were explored, regarding the nature and seasons of established relationships, perception of beauty, and a reverence for the environment, Mother Earth, and the natural balance of the world. So, despite my disappointment in a certain turn of events in the story, I overall found Summerlong to be a satisfying read, that will no doubt captivate Mr. Beagle’s many fans, and new readers, alike.