Book Review – Summerlong by Peter Beagle

SummerlongSummerlong by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis (From Goodreads.com): One rainy February night, while dining at a favorite local haunt, Abe and his girlfriend Joanna meet waitress Lioness Lazos, new in town and without a place of her own. Fascinated and moved by the girl’s plight, Joanna invites Lioness to stay in Abe’s garage. Lioness is about to alter the lives of Abe, Joanna and those around them forever.

My Thoughts: As a life-long Peter Beagle fan, I am always excited when a new Peter Beagle book is released so I was thrilled to discover his latest book, Summerlong. It’s hard to discuss this book in detail without giving away too much of the plot, so for those who are looking to avoid spoilers, let me just say that I enjoyed Summerlong for the most part. I went through a massive mythology-reading spree as a kid so, when I was pretty tickled when I realized who Lioness really was and what story Beagle was playing with. (I was also amused by all the great little details Beagle scattered throughout the story that seemed insignificant until that plot twist is revealed). I have my issues with the ending – which is the only thing that makes this a four-star review instead of a five – but I can’t go into that without some serious spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.
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So Summerlong is Peter Beagles’ take on the Persephone myth. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Persephone was the daughter of Demetria, goddess of the Earth. She was stolen away by Hades, the god of the underworld and her mother grieved for her so much that it caused the world’s first winter. The other gods forced Hades to release Persephone from the underworld and Demetria is so overjoyed to see her that everything begins to grow and bloom again on Earth, bringing in the first spring. However, because Persephone ate some pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, she must return to Hades for several months every year – one for every seed she ate – and winter comes again.

In Summerlong, Lioness (aka Persephone) runs away from her husband, Hades, and hides out on this tiny commuter island, where an older couple – Joanna and Abe – take her under their wing. All hell breaks loose (pardon the pun) when Hades comes to retrieve his missing wife and this is the point where Summerlong goes off the tracks. Beagle paints Lioness as a woman on the run from an abusive marriage. She cannot bear the cold of Hades realm and is terrified when she realizes that Hades has come for her but then she does an odd about-face and is suddenly willing to return “home” to the underworld for no reason that I could understand. Not that Hades is all that bad. Even Lioness admits that he has always tried to be good to her but if there was just a dissonance between the panicked woman on the run and the way the story ended.

I was also less than thrilled with how the story ended for Abe and Joanna. Their unconventional relationship was one of my favorite parts of the book, with so much love, history, and understanding between them that it felt like a punch in the gut that it ended the way it did. If it had helped Lioness or if Joanna and Abe were able to still be friends and not lose everything that was between them, I would have been more reconciled to the lose but the feeling that it was all for nothing tainted the ending of an otherwise wonderful book for me. Don’t get me wrong, Summerlong is still more than worth the read – even a flawed Peter Beagle book is still an amazing book – but I don’t think Summerlong will be displacing The Last Unicorn or Tamsin as my favorite Peter Beagle novels anytime soon.

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