Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for his radiant novel in stories, Mary and O'Neil, Justin Cronin has already been hailed as a writer of astonishing gifts. Now Cronin's 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 man's 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.
A Maine fishing camp serves as the physical and emotional center for an extended circle of family and friends in this charming novel spanning three generations. On a single day in late summer, the rich financier Harry Wainwright, now dying of cancer, visits the camp he has frequented for more than 30 years. His visit prompts a flood of memories for each of the characters: Joe, who inherited the camp from his father but spent years away when his father convinced him to evade the Vietnam draft; Lucy, Joe's wife, whose love for her husband and the camp is intertwined with her love for Harry; Jordan, a young fishing guide who finds solace and purpose at the camp; and Lucy's daughter, Kate, an aspiring medical student whose presence links all of the characters. Each character tells a portion of their back-story in alternating chapters, and as the events of the day progress, the reader begins to understand the sources of the complex tension underlying each relationship. Chronologically, the story begins with the arrival of Joe's father to the camp just after World War II, and the whole novel has something of a 1940s feel about it: the bedrock realities of family and place remain constant in spite of the vicissitudes of emotions and events, and the voices of these Mainers have a lovely calm that evokes the timeless summer place. Though the pieces of the story fit almost too neatly and everyone ends up exactly where they should, the novel's recognition of human frailty and nobility rings true, as does its faithful recreation of a place outside the storms of history. Agent, Ellen Levine. (July 6) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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The Dial Press
May 30, 2006
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Excerpt from The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin
Everybody has a story, so here is mine--the story of me and Kate and old Harry Wainwright, and the woods and lake where all of this takes place. My
name: Jordan Heronimus Patterson Jr., son of the late Captain Jordan Heronimus Patterson Sr., USN, both of us Virginia born and bred, though now I live here, in the North Woods of Maine, where I make my living as a fishing guide. My father, a Navy pilot, loved the air, as I love what's beneath it--the sun and light and snow and mountains of this remote place, and the big trout under the water. To meet me, you might think I must be simple, or unambitious, or just plain lazy, a grown man who fishes for a living; that is, a man who plays. When I take a party out on the lake, or downriver for the last of the spawning runs, when they'll still take a streamer, the man may ask me, or the woman if there is a woman, "What else do you do?" Or, "Do you really stay up here all winter?" A question I don't hold against them, because I'm young, just thirty, and here is far from anywhere, the hardness of winter plain to see even on the sweetest summer afternoon in the twisted way the pines grow; they're asking about movies and restaurants and stores, of course, all the things they love, so it's natural to ask it: What else do I do? So I tell them about taking care of the boats and cabins, and hunting parties in the fall, which I'll do if I have to but don't really care for; and I may throw in a thing or two about college, how I didn't mind going when I was there (University of Maine at Orono, class of 1986, B.S. in economics with a minor in forestry, thank you very much); and the man will nod, or the woman, thinking: Why, here's a man of no account! And for one silent second they're me, and happy because of it, and then they'll ask me where to fish or what pattern to use on the line, and they'll catch something because of what I tell them and go home to Boston or New York or even Los Angeles, and I'll stay here as the snow piles up, something I can't explain to anyone, not even to myself.
And if I sound as if I don't like these people, that isn't at all true. The camp is far north, four hours by car from Portland and tricky to find, and the people who will make such a journey are serious about fishing. They are rich, most of them, a fact they cannot hide: one sees the evidence in their cars, their clothes, the good leather of their luggage and shoes. It's large what's between us, make no mistake, and I know that to such people I am just another body for hire, like the nanny who raises their children, the broker who sells them the stocks that make them more money, the lawyer they retain when they wish to divorce. But because they are rich enough to have these things, they are gracious to me, even respect me, for I know what they do not: where the fish are what they are likely to take. For this they rent me, body and soul, at two hundred fifty dollars a day, a hundred fifty for the half, as pure a bargain as I know about, and dirt cheap if truth be told.
There are regulars, too, people who come up here every year at the time they like best: early summer for the big mayfly hatches, or else the long dry days of August, after the blackflies have gone, the days are as crisp as a butterfly on pins, and the fish have wised up and aren't especially hungry besides--not the easiest time to catch them, but that's not why these folks are here, and not why I'm here, either. Which brings me to the last summer I saw Harry Wainwright--the Harrison P. Wainwright, he of the thirty-odd consecutive summers, the Forbes 500 and the NYSE and all the rest--who came up here at last to die.