Summerlong – Peter S Beagle

Summerlong by Peter S Beagle (review copy from Tachyon) is in the fine tradition of literary fiction about the impact of an outsider on a settled community. Lioness Lazos is the new waitress at the restaurant on a remote island near Seattle. On an impulse, Abe and Joanna invite her to live in Abe’s garage, sensing that she is somehow in need and on the run from something or someone. But as the spring and summer progress, they start to notice strange things happening around Lioness: unusual weather patterns, perpetual flowers, mysterious strangers starting to appear. All of this ultimately puts Abe and Joanna’s relationship to the test as they unravel the mystery that is Lioness.  
This is a novel that works best as a straight examination of Abe and Joanna, and their relationship with each other and with Joanna’s daughter Lily. Their relationship is one of long-standing, and has weathered many bumps over the years until they’ve found ways of being together than work for them. Abe, a retired historian lives on the island, researching and writing his next book. Joanna is nearing the end of her career as senior airline cabin crew. She lives on the mainland, but they visit each other frequently in a well-worn routine. Lioness’s presence on the island becomes a catalyst for a crisis in their relationship, but also for both Abe and Joanna to question their priorities and goals in life. Abe chooses to pursue a long-held dream of taking his blues harmonica-playing more seriously, joining a band. Joanna has always dreamed of learning to kayak, to float in the gap between water and sky.  
This story of mid-life crisis with life resettling into a subtly changed pattern is well-worn territory in literary fiction, and Beagle’s take on it is delivered deftly and with real warmth. But the genre elements for me add very little to the story. It’s ultimately immaterial what Lioness’s story is, or what – or who – she is running from. The important thing about her is that she is the disruptive outsider whose presence instigates the events of the novel. I think it would be a stronger novel without the genre elements, if anything. The ending of Lioness’s story is one of the weaker parts of the book.
Summerlong is not a style of book that will appeal to most mainstream genre fiction readers, but it’s a warm and engaging story that’s definitely worth dipping into.  
Goodreads rating: 3*

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