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The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin
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The Summer Guest

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The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin
Paperback $17.00
May 31, 2005 | ISBN 9780385335829

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    May 31, 2005 | ISBN 9780385335829

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  • Jun 29, 2004 | ISBN 9780440335009

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  • Mar 12, 2013 | ISBN 9780804126670

    828 Minutes

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“Justin Cronin succeeds, touchingly and tenderly, in portraying life itself as a triumph of hope over experience.”The Boston Globe

The Summer Guest is a jewel, the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. . . . By all means take it to the beach, but be warned that it’s more than entertainment—it’s a work of art. Justin Cronin has written a great American novel. . . . Reading this novel, I couldn’t help but think of Hemingway, Andre Dubus and Wallace Stegner.”—Susan Balee, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Here is a gifted and assured writer whose work reveals a fine sense of place and thoughtful characters who have something worth saying. . . . The Summer Guest is a haunting story about the way time changes us and about what endures.”Houston Chronicle

“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. . . . The novel’s recognition of human frailty and nobility rings true, as does its faithful recreation of a place outside the storms of history.”Publishers Weekly


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.

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