Craig’s second novel marked a departure into a different kind of storytelling: more personal, darker, more psychological.
It’s a story of fathers and sons and the many ways those relationships can go sideways. Set simultaneously in the modern-day, as a grown Mitch Quillen tries to come to terms with his estranged father, and in the late-1970s gas fields of the West, The Summer Son plumbs a deep, complicated emotional terrain, exposing the fault lines of family secrets, betrayal, and inexplicable acts of love.
When Mitch’s life begins to unravel, he fears there is no escape. His marriage and his career are both failing, and his relationship with his father has been a disaster for decades. Approaching forty, Mitch doesn’t want to become a middle-aged statistic. When his estranged father, Jim, suddenly calls, Mitch’s wife urges him to respond. Ready for a change, Mitch heads to Montana and a showdown that will alter the course of his life. Amid a backdrop of rugged peaks and valleys, the story unfolds: a violent episode that triggered the rift, thirty years of miscommunication, and the possibility of misplaced blame. In The Summer Son, readers are invited into a family where conflict and secrets prevail, and where hope for healing and redemption is possible.
The Summer Son has also been translated into French and German editions.
About the book
Original release date: January 25th, 2011
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing; 2nd edition by Missouri Breaks Press (2017)
ISBN-10 (paperback): 0998630519
ISBN-13 (paperback): 978-0998630519
ISBN-10 (hardcover): 0998630527
ISBN-13 (hardcover): 978-0998630526
Download the The Summer Son media kit.
Praise for the book
“A classic western tale of rough lives and gruff, dangerous men, of innocence betrayed and long, stumbling journeys to love.”—Booklist
“Lancaster has crafted a novel that offers readers the most valuable gift any work of fiction can offer: an authentic emotional experience.”—Jonathan Evison, best-selling author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
“A compelling dose of realism and a vicious reminder that ancient history is always close enough to kiss us.”—Joshua Mohr, author of Fight Song
What the author says
When I was 6 or 7 years old, I would sometimes climb a big oak tree in my friend Chris Carson’s front yard. From that lofty perch in North Richland Hills, Texas, I could see a squat, blue water tower in a neighboring suburb, a water tower that bore a striking resemblance to one more than a thousand miles away, in Mills, Wyoming.
That’s where my father lived. Imagining that he and I were separated not by miles of asphalt and a time zone but only by a distance my eyes could cover somehow eased his prolonged absences from my life. And though I had no way of knowing it at that tender age, I was planting seeds of memory that, in a very real way, led to the writing of The Summer Son more than 30 years later.
Few themes run so deep in the written word as the fumbling journeys of love between fathers and sons. Sophocles gave us Oedipus, who killed his father (and married his mother, but we’ll set that aside for our purposes today). Daedalus fashioned wings for himself and his son, Icarus, and cautioned the boy not to fly too high. Icarus, being headstrong as so many sons are, did not heed this warning and fell to his death in the sea. The Bible gives us the prodigal son, a young man who wishes to live by his own rules and his own code and demands his share of his father’s wealth up front. “Show me the money!” he seems to be saying, and when he finally returns home, the father welcomes him with a celebration, irritating the more obedient son who stayed close to home.
On the screen, the theme plays out just as strongly. Even genial George Bailey, the benevolent booster of Bedford Falls, mildly rebels against his good-hearted father, telling him on the last night of the old man’s life that “this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe… I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.” In more recent years, in the high drama of Kramer vs. Kramer and the madcap antics of Mr. Mom, we see traditional gender roles flipped and ask ourselves whether a father can serve the nurturing role that mothers have filled for millennia. To men’s great credit, they can.
The very dynamics of the father-son relationship come with built-in tension. Our relationships with our mothers are gestational; mothers are our lifeline in a literal way, in the womb and out, and thus we tend to have a hardwired closeness. Fathers historically stand apart from that relationship. They give us our names, and we in turn either have to live up to them or live them down. If our fathers are particularly accomplished in some area of endeavor, there is pressure, real or imagined, for us to follow and prove ourselves up to the task. For every Peyton Manning, who has achieved far beyond his father, there are dozens who fall short. When Michael Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he looked at his sons and said, “I wouldn’t want to be you guys if I had to.” Harsh, isn’t it? But it also has the ring of truth.
My experience with my own father was informed by absence. He and my mother divorced when I was three years old, and Mom soon remarried a man who moved us from Wyoming to Texas. I saw Dad during summers and the occasional holiday, and those occasions diminished as I grew older and less inclined to leave home for weeks at a time. He’s a man of the earth, someone who overcame a horrific childhood of abuse and neglect. I grew up among books and intellectual curiosity and enough love to occasionally smother me. It’s not that Dad and I had any deep divisions; it’s that we just didn’t know each other very well. I tried to close the gap a bit when I was fifteen, after he’d endured a tough divorce, by moving to Moriarty, N.M., to stay with him for a school year. I lasted just a semester. I resented his attempts to discipline me when he’d never made much of an effort to do so before, and I don’t think he was ever comfortable in that role. I remember yelling at a family friend who had attempted to intervene in one of our clashes, telling me “he’s your father.” “He doesn’t get to decide to do it now!” I yelled back, conveniently forgetting that I had asked Dad to open his life to me and he was merely trying to do so.
Part of my journey as an adult has been getting closer to him—not just so I could love him, which I do as a matter of course, but so I could understand him and like him. And I do, even if he’s an incorrigible cheater at Skipbo.
So please understand this about The Summer Son. I certainly drew on my own relationship with my father in building the emotional underpinning of the book, but the son, Mitch Quillen, and the father, Jim, are not Craig and Ron Lancaster. Their bond is much more tenuous, much more explosive and much more complicated, all of which will become abundantly clear as you read the book, and I hope you do.