Book Review: Summerlong, Peter S. Beagle (2016)

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

But that ending!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. This review contains clearly marked spoilers.)

He could never have distinguished the rescued young orca of a week before from the rest of the pod, but there was no mistaking the slender figure poised on the slanting bluff that had long since been Joanna’s daffodil bed, before a tremor had sliced it in two. Lioness Lazos was standing there, not at all like a witch, arms raised to order tides and powers to her bidding, but as calmly as the great dorsals themselves: greeting, perhaps, but never commanding, even seeming at one point to wave them diffidently away. And still the orcas danced for her.

I can count the number of childhood favorites that have managed to hold up over time on one hand, and The Last Unicorn is of them. (The book and the animated film, which is a double rarity.) Up until Summerlong, it was also my only experience with Peter S. Beagle. I own several of his titles – The Innkeeper’s Song, The Line Between, Mirror Kingdoms; accumulated at garage and library sales, mostly – but so far they’ve been languishing in the middle of a ginormous TBR pile.

Summerlong is quite evocative of The Last Unicorn, yet still its own beast. It has the same quirky charm and dreamlike quality, but also feels much more adult. (Thanks in no small part to the older protagonists and copious – yet tasteful – sex scenes.) While the story does boast some wonderful elements – not the least of which is Beagle’s distinctive, fanciful writing – overall it fell a little short of my expectations. Which is perhaps a bit unfair: bound up as it is in all sorts of childhood feels and ’80s nostalgia, The Last Unicorn is maybe not the best (or most objective) reference point.

The story begins in February, with the arrival of a beautiful and mysterious stranger on Gardner Island. Lioness Lazos quickly and seamlessly integrates herself into island life, stumbling into a waitressing job at the Skyliner Diner – which is where Abe Aronson and his longtime girlfriend Joanna Delvecchio find her. Before the bill’s been settled, they have offered to let Lioness stay in Abe’s garage, rent-free. Being in close proximity to Lioness does that to a person: makes them take leave of their senses, and gladly so. She is, in a word, enchanting.

(More below the fold…)

Is there another way to win a maiden? | Kindness, courtesy, good works, that sort of thing.

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Still fro The Last Unicorn

“What can I do for you?” Prince Lír asked. “Nothing very much just now,” Molly Grue said. “The water was all I needed. Unless you want to peel the potatoes, which would be all right with me.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. I mean yes, I will if you want me to, but I was talking to her. I mean, when I talk to her, that’s what I keep asking.”

“Sit down and peel me a few potatoes,” Molly said. “It’ll give you something to do with your hands.”

They were in the scullery, a dank little room smelling strongly of rotting turnips and fermenting beets. A dozen earthenware dishes were piled in one corner, and a very small fire was shivering under a tripod, trying to boil a large pot of gray water. Molly sat at a rude table which was covered with potatoes, leeks, onions, peppers, carrots, and other vegetables, most of them limp and spotty. Prince Lír stood before her, rocking slowly along his feet and twisting his big, soft fingers together.

“I killed another dragon this morning,” he said presently.

“That’s nice,” Molly answered. “That’s fine. How many does that make now?”

“Five. This one was smaller than the others, but it really gave me more trouble. I couldn’t get near it on foot, so I had to go in with the lance, and my horse got pretty badly burned. It was funny about the horse —”

Molly interrupted him. “Sit down, Your Highness, and stop doing that. I start to twitch all over just watching you.” Prince Lír sat down opposite her. He drew a dagger from his belt and moodily began peeling potatoes. Molly regarded him with a slight, slow smile.

“I brought her the head,” he said. “She was in her chamber, as she usually is. I dragged that head all the way up the stairs to lay it at her feet.” He sighed, and nicked his finger with the dagger. “Damn. I didn’t mind that. All the way up the stairs it was a dragon’s head, the proudest gift anyone can give anyone. But when she looked at it, suddenly it became a sad, battered mess of scales and horns, gristly tongue, bloody eyes. I felt like some country butcher who had brought his lass a nice chunk of fresh meat as a token of his love. And then she looked at me, and I was sorry I had killed the thing. Sorry for killing a dragon!” He slashed at a rubbery potato and wounded himself again.

– Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn (1968)