Author: Peter S. Beagle
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Genre: Magical Realism, Romance
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(An advance copy was provided by the publisher).
Joanna Delvecchio and Abe Arronson are an elderly couple best described by Beagle as, "single but together." They live in the estuary of Puget Sound near Seattle, and their lives are thrown into unexpected new directions when Lioness Lazos arrives.
Beagle is best known for writing the children's book The Last Unicorn, which is a story I really enjoyed. Summerlong is nothing like that book, and is geared towards adults. Magical realism plays a large part in the fantasy driven elements, and the nature of long-term relationships are explored, but this is mostly a real world fantasy. No towering castles or sad unicorns, but there are forests .... so ....
Abe and Joanna have been together for over two decades, and their relationship is unconventional by society's standards. They aren't married. Joanna has a twenty-eight year old daughter named Lily by a different father. They both have separate homes. They both have independent lives with interests and hobbies.
The way Abe and Joanna talk to each other is in an "old school 1950s sort of way." Generally I don't care for these types of dialogues. On the other hand, given the age of the two characters it makes sense that Abe and Joanna talk to each other the way they do. They really remind me of my grandparents.
Lily was my favorite character. She is a lesbian with a history of mental health issues, and she has a difficult relationship with her mother, but not with Abe, surprisingly. Although she's more of a supporting role, I was able to appreciate Lioness and Joanna a lot more through her, and while I would have enjoyed some more introspection from her perspective, at 240 pages there just isn't all that much space for that to happen.
By romance story conventions, Summerlong makes some surprising choices. Choices I don't necessarily agree with, but at the same time were choices that made sense in the context of the plot.
I enjoyed the first two thirds of the story, but was disappointed by the last third, in terms of plot execution. I liked where Beagle was trying to get all of his characters to by the end of the story, and I like the messages he had about the nature of long term relationships vs being independent. But the way the magical elements were incorporated into the plot, and how those elements controlled the decisions that the characters made was particularly disappointing.
If Summerlong has one distinct similarity with The Last Unicorn, it's the dreamlike prose. Enjoyment of this story will really depend on how you feel about a couple of plot directions the author takes towards the latter half of the book. Despite these flaws I still found I enjoyed the story.