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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

The Summer Guest


The Summer Guest Cover



Author Q & A

Justin Cronin’s Sales Conference Remarks, 4/04

Like everything I write, the most startling thing about THE SUMMER GUEST, at least to me, is that at one time it never existed, not even as an idea. There’s a pleasurable shock to this fact — I think it’s the reason most writers do what they do — and the only corresponding sensation I can identify is trying to imagine what my life was like before my children were born.

But of course the book did start somewhere, and — ironically for something that took so much work to make — it started on vacation. This was nine years ago, in the summer of 1995. My wife Leslie and I had just bought our first house, a falling-down Victorian in a sketchy neighborhood of Philadelphia, and after two months of scraping woodwork in the summer heat, we had a case of buyers remorse so bad it had begun to include not only the house but also each other. The only thing to do to save the marriage was to pack up the car and get the hell out of there; we had no idea where to go, and arbitrarily selected the lakes region in the northwest corner of the Maine.

Spontaneous vacations to unknown destinations have a way of blowing up in your face, but this time we guessed right. So much of New England is awash with tourists in the summer: here was a place that absolutely no one seemed to know about, or at least very few, and it was just spectacularly beautiful, beautiful in a way that only a *secret* can be beautiful. We rented a cabin right on one of the bigger lakes, and passed a week in a happy daze, listening to the loons and ogling the young moose that stopped by the cabin every evening to snack on the bushes under the bedroom window – a shaggy-bearded buck we named “Keeanu.”

Toward the end of our time there, we visited a sportsman’s lodge about twenty miles away. I gathered it was kind of a well known place among fly fishers, which I am. It was simply magnificent: completely remote, on the edge of an absolutely pristine lake with a view of the mountains. We spent the morning paddling around in a canoe and then had lunch in the lodge. Seated at a nearby table was an elderly man who was obviously in very poor health. He was using an oxygen tank, and had a walker. While we were waiting for our meal, he was joined by his family: a grown son, a woman who might have been an aunt or sister, and a little girl. We had seen these people earlier, out fishing on the lake. “Tell me everything,” the elderly man said to his family, and they did: each detail of their morning, how the lake had looked and where they’d gone and what the fishing was like. He was too old, too sick, to go himself, I realized; their story of the morning was the closest he could get.

They left, and we finished our meal. When our waitress came by with the check, I asked her about what we had seen.

“It’s so sad,” she said, and to my astonishment, she burst into tears. “He’s so sick. He’s been coming here for thirty years.” Then she took our money and hurried away.

A weeping waitress. An overheard conversation at a fishing lodge in Maine. I couldn’t stop thinking about them: how sad it all was, like our waitress said, but beautiful, too, the way he’d drunk in every word, how just being in this place he loved was a kind of final sustenance. I knew immediately I would never forget them.

“You should write it,” Leslie said to me as we drove away.

“Why should I write it?” I said. “It was perfect just as it was.”

She gave me ... a look.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “is it just me, or am I married to the dumbest writer in America?”

She was absolutely right. If I could only figure it out, it was the kind of thing that writers wait for years to find. Who were these beautiful people? What attraction drew them to this place? And that number: thirty years. A whole history seemed bottled in the moment, a web of history binding all these people together.

This is where the imagination takes over, and the story I made – of fathers and sons, and a long love affair, and the power of what we feel for children, and the final, unquenchable yearning for home – was meant to honor the lines of love I felt in the lodge that morning. I think I began writing it before we’d gotten to the end of the driveway. But some stories need to marinate, and this one did: in the meantime, I wrote Mary and O’Neil, a love story of another, but I think not entirely different kind, and when I returned to THE SUMMER GUEST three years ago—a little older, a little wiser, and a parent myself—I knew I was ready to write it. I don’t know if it’s perfect, almost nothing you put on the page ever is, but I hope that the readers who find it will discover something of the great, sad, perfect joy I felt that day in Maine – in the book I wrote, and in their lives.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Marilyn Simpson, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Marilyn Simpson)
One of the best books I have ever read! Strong on character but balanced with a good plot. Too bad there aren't more offerings from this author.
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Product Details

Cronin, Justin
Dial Press
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
May 31, 2005
Grade Level:
8.32x5.28x.84 in. .65 lbs.

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
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The Summer Guest Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Delta - English 9780385335829 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

This wonderful story follows three generations of a family who run a fishing camp in Maine. From the horrors of war, from the loneliness of exile, from the devastation of terminal illness, the camp offers the consolations of beauty, of love, of home. Cronin is a very fine writer.

"Review A Day" by , "[D]espite the fundamental, sometimes sickening decency of the is hard not to care about how (not whether) arrangements will fall into place....And it's the twists that make this novel worth finishing: a surprise bequest, a child's death, a brush with mortality on a fishing trip. With a plot so well-executed and eventful, you won't even notice when the surprises turn out to be, well, no big surprise." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "A lyric chronicle ably spanning the distance between the gravitas of domestic heavyweights like Updike and Cheever and the studied, interwoven plotting of most book-club picks, without falling into the traps of either."
"Review" by , "Cronin's graceful well executed but uncompelling....Pleasant people in a pleasant setting, but without the credibility and edge to engage."
"Review" by , "[L]uminous....Cronin's novel reveals the rugged beauty of his native New England and the tender terrain of the human heart."
"Review" by , "Only when the characters begin delving into the past does the novel begin for real, getting at the heart of the mystery that Cronin loves best: the mystery of what shapes the human character."
"Review" by , "Every piece of happiness feels infused with sorrow. And that doesn't even take into account the physical pain the characters endure....The Summer Guest is a haunting story about the way time changes us and about what endures."
"Review" by , "Justin Cronin succeeds, touchingly and tenderly, in portraying life itself as a triumph of hope over experience."
"Review" by , "The novel has its share of irritating moments and cliche philosophical commentary....Still, everything clicks quite nicely. The novel's successes lie in the rendering of characters other than Harry."
"Review" by , "This will probably be one of this reviewer's favorite books of 2004....Cronin paints a beautiful picture of this out-of-the-way part of the country, creating a wonderfully magical place where the past mingles with the future."
"Synopsis" by , With a rare combination of emotional insight, narrative power, and lyrical grace, Cronin transforms the simple story of a dying man's last wish into a rich tapestry of family love.
"Synopsis" by , Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for his radiant novel in stories, Mary and ONeil, Justin Cronin has already been hailed as a writer of astonishing gifts. Now Cronins new novel, The Summer Guest, fulfills that promise—and more. With a rare combination of emotional insight, narrative power, and lyrical grace, Cronin transforms the simple story of a dying mans last wish into a rich tapestry of family love.

On an evening in late summer, the great financier Harry Wainwright, nearing the end of his life, arrives at a rustic fishing camp in a remote area of Maine. He comes bearing two things: his wish for a day of fishing in a place that has brought him solace for thirty years, and an astonishing bequest that will forever change the lives of those around him.

From the battlefields of Italy to the turbulence of the Vietnam era, to the private battles of love and family, The Summer Guest reveals the full history of this final pilgrimage and its meaning for four people: Jordan Patterson, the haunted young man who will guide Harry on his last voyage out; the camps owner Joe Crosby, a Vietnam draft evader who has spent a lifetime “trying to learn what it means to be brave”; Joes wife, Lucy, the woman Harry has loved for three decades; and Joe and Lucys daughter Kate—the spirited young woman who holds the key to the last unopened door to the past.

As their stories unfold, secrets are revealed, courage is tested, and the bonds of love are strengthened. And always center stage is the place itself—a magical, forgotten corner of New England where the longings of the human heart are mirrored in the wild beauty of the landscape.

Intimate, powerful, and profound, The Summer Guest reveals Justin Cronin as a storyteller of unique and marvelous talent. It is a book to treasure.

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