Friday, August 13, 2021

Fiction Review: The Summer Guest

I was thrilled when my book group chose The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin for our August selection because it’s been on my shelf for six years! And, yes, it is that Justin Cronin of The Passage fame. However, this novel is a far, far cry from that sci-fi/horror/thriller trilogy, though it is just as well-written and compelling.


This quiet story set in the northern woods of Maine begins in 1947, as Joe, a disfigured WWII vet, moves his young wife and baby son up to a remote area of northern Maine to start their lives over. Then, the narrative shifts to present-day, where that baby, also Joe, has grown up to own and work in the camp/lodge with his own wife, Lucy, and adult daughter, Kate, along with an outdoorsman named Jordan who is a fishing guide. An elderly millionaire named Harry who comes to the camp every summer has returned for one last fishing trip before he dies of cancer.  The narrative moves back and forth in time to gradually fill in the background and history of each of these characters, leading up to Harry’s last visit to the camp. In this way, the story covers a broad range of history, time, and different places, though the camp in northern Maine is at the heart of the story and is home for most of its characters.


This is an intricate novel about relationships, secrets, and of course, that gorgeous, remote place (check out that beautiful cover photo!). It captures the magic of a special place—especially a summer place—that you return to year after year, and members of my book group shared our own stories of our own favorite places. The narrative shifts back and forth between characters, often continuing the timeline of the story but switching perspective to another person so that the reader gets to understand the thoughts and feelings of each of the characters intimately. Each of their stories is gradually built, during flashbacks, so that you see what they experienced and how they came to be their present selves. This provided great fodder for discussion with my book group last night on a wide range of topics from parenting to keeping secrets to coming-of-age to right-to-die issues. Like me, most of our group thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully-written, compelling, and thought-provoking novel that spans generations.


369 pages, Dial Press Trade Paperbacks


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  1. The cover is so evocative of a feeling that I love. It reminds me of the San Juan Islands up in Washington state, a place that I love.

    1. Yes, same for me, Helen :) Gorgeous cover. Though,there are no kayaks in the book! ha ha (some canoes, though) Normally, that would really bother me (a cover not quite matching the content of the book), but this one is just so beautiful, and it DOES capture the natural beauty of the area.