Hannah Greendale's Reviews > Summerlong

Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
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it was ok
bookshelves: literary, mythology-folklore

Summerlong beckons with an alluring cover, and the synopsis hints at a scintillating story with mention of long-hidden dreams and desires, but the book fails to deliver. It's akin to a cocoon with its promise of beauty and wonder, but once it's cracked open, there's no butterfly to be found inside.

The book follows an older couple who are inexplicably drawn to a young waitress named Lioness. The couple offers Lioness a rent-free room in the garage and spend the remainder of the novel pondering the girl's strangeness. Whether it's intended or not, their obsession with Lioness registers as slightly unsettling, teetering on the edge of perverse:

Her legs were slender and pleasant, and he was embarrassed to find himself looking at them, or even thinking about Lioness having legs at all.

Having marveled just that morning over the springing flex of Lioness's hips as she bent to lift a disgracefully shiny exercise bicycle, he was greatly enjoying his feeling of virtuous outrage.

One of the book's weaknesses has to do with the lack of want from the main characters. The only flicker of desire demonstrated by the older couple has to do with their interest in learning more about Lioness, a girl whose strangeness is revealed so subtly and so rarely as to be of little interest to the reader.

"Actually by Botticelli. It's a Renaissance painting of a young girl who represents spring -- that's primavera in Italian. You remind me of her."
The waitress did not smile, but a shadowy dimple appeared under one cheekbone. "Perhaps she reminds you of me."


"It's something that happens to the air around her. Like when you're looking across a hot stove or a steam radiator, and the air seems to be rippling, distorting things, just in that one place. With her, I think the molecules turn sideways, or get on edge or something -- they start dancing, boogieing, rubbing up against each other, they get all sort of warm and sweaty, and the air just changes. Probably accounts for the weird weather."

Despite the sluggish plot, Peter S. Beagle's talent as a writer shines through in myriad places:

Fawns and flowers were the least of it: early whales, geese, and lawns could be rationalized, unlike warm night rains, absurdly golden morning clouds, windless wine-soft twilights, and backyard vegetable gardens exploding in such riot that the hungriest deer could not keep up with them.

She hushed him with a kiss, smoke-light but lingering.

The plain truth is this book is well written, but it reads like Spring having arrived with no flowers in bloom. The dull content, inconsequential dialogue, and lack of momentum equates to an achingly slow build to an unsatisfying payoff.
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Reading Progress

August 24, 2016 – Started Reading
August 24, 2016 – Shelved
August 25, 2016 –
page 118
49.17% "Halfway through and can summarize my initial reaction to this book with one word: bewildered."
August 26, 2016 – Shelved as: literary
August 26, 2016 – Shelved as: mythology-folklore
August 26, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Malcolm (new)

Malcolm Everett Very well-written review! The cover is indeed intriguing. Sad to hear it didn't deliver on its promise of "beauty and wonder."


Hannah Greendale Thank you, Malcolm. :)

I really had high hopes for this book (especially given how much I love The Last Unicorn). I still think Peter S. Beagle is an exceptionally talented author, but this book just wasn't for me.


message 3: by Malcolm (new)

Malcolm Everett Hannah wrote: "Thank you, Malcolm. :)

I really had high hopes for this book (especially given how much I love The Last Unicorn). I still think Peter S. Beagle is an exceptionally talented author, but this book ..."


It's kind of silly how much bigger the author's name is compared to the book title. I've heard great things about The Last Unicorn as a contemporary fantasy classic (although the blurb makes it sound like something from the 80s).


Hannah Greendale Well, The Last Unicorn was originally published in 1968, which just goes to show that it's timeless. It's a beautiful book, one I definitely recommend.


message 5: by Malcolm (new)

Malcolm Everett Hannah wrote: "Well, The Last Unicorn was originally published in 1968, which just goes to show that it's timeless. It's a beautiful book, one I definitely recommend."

Ah, that makes more sense! I kept seeing 2007 pop up for some reason. Must be the reprint. It's on my to-read list for sure.


Hannah Greendale That's probably The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version which was published in 2007. Apparently Peter S. Beagle wrote a short story about a last unicorn years before he wrote the book. The Lost Version is that short story in print. I'd love to read it, but they must not have printed many copies; it's difficult to find and very expensive.


message 7: by Malcolm (new)

Malcolm Everett Hannah wrote: "That's probably The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version which was published in 2007. Apparently Peter S. Beagle wrote a short story about a last unicorn years before he wrote the book. The Lost Version ..."

Weird. I guess it's a collector's item now. Authors do seem to like creating novels from short stories.


message 8: by Jaksen (new)

Jaksen They do that because they have 'one more thing to say' about the novel, or in the novel, that they just didn't do when writing the novel. One more idea, one more 'clarification,' or a subplot that the novel didn't have room for.


Hannah Greendale I wish The Lost Version would get reprinted. Or better yet, I wish the publisher would do an anniversary edition of The Last Unicorn and just tack The Lost Version on the end of the book. I'd sure like to know what those additional subplots or thoughts were.


message 10: by Jagrid (last edited Aug 30, 2016 10:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jagrid It's not that The Lost Version is a short story. Beagle started writing The Last Unicorn in 1962 and gave up because it wasn't coming together. He eventually went back and discarded everything except one chapter before starting over. That's The Lost Version. To quote an interview: "The story is set in modern times‌—‌there are asphalt roads, and speeding automobiles, and the battered dragon who first tells the unicorn that she is the last or her kind complains of pigheaded policemen and having its tail run over by a truck."

It was supposed to be republished in "The First Last Unicorn and Other Beginnings" but that still hasn't been released.


Hannah Greendale Thank you for clarifying, Jag. I'm even more intrigued now than I was to begin with.


Hannah Greendale Would you look at that: The Lost Version can be purchased digitally. Here's the link: http://conlanpress.com/the-last-unico...


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