Summer Stories: The Frothiest Part of the Reading Year

May 26, 2016
I really think some stories are seasonal.  Autumn stories get us to think about life and its priorities; generation-spanning epics are good for those long, winter nights and spring stories are about inspiration. Summer stories live in another world, one of twilight and green shade and flirting. Summer novels are meant to be read with pink lemonade on a porch swing or on a chaise in the shade.  These are the tales of romance and fun, even the ones that don’t contain conventional love stories. Summer is the frothiest part of the reading year and Peter Mayle writes summer stories like no one else.  His novel, A Good Year, suggests the summer can do more than help you through a domestic crisis; it can lead you  to the best part of your life.
This tale goes well with lemonade..
If Summer is the season for self-awareness, then Max Skinner is neglecting the calendar as well as his personal life.  While others are living their London lives, Max has bartered his for a high-stress job and a possible bonus. A self-serving boss robs him of both just as Max learns the uncle who raised him died. Max may be out of a job but he’s inherited an old house and vineyard in the country beyond Avignon. With help and encouragement of his best friend, Max leaves behind his career in the City to rediscover life somewhere in France.
…or other drinks of Summer
Now, anyone who reads Peter Mayle’s books knows his stories require certain things. There is always sunshine, as well as the pleasures of food and wine, and somewhere the hero must run across a House That Needs Work. A Good Year delivers that and more.  Here is the sunny, dusty, green paradise known as Provence and the hard working families that have been there for generations who regard
“The Invading English” with reasonable suspicion. Max’s legacy turn out to be a vineyard and “almost-chateau” badly in need of attention, money and care.  Still, these are not the most serious obstacles keeping him from becoming the region’s next wine maker.  A heretofore unknown daughter of his uncle appears who could challenge his inheritance.  Even worse, the vineyard’s product is vile. Max’s wine is comparable to cat urine.
Of course obstacles make up the structure of stories and life; the setbacks that happen to us mean less than how we deal with them.  Max’s adventures among the vines are a lesson in the art of adaptation through friendship, intelligence and a certain amount of acceptance of the Eccentricities of Others.  The life he has at the end of the story is not the future he foresaw at the beginning, nor is it etched into stone but he has patience and hope. After all wine, like Summer and word of mouth, needs time to develop so the best part of life’s journey may lie in enjoying the road to success.
So as the summer begins to heat up, remember why you wanted it to appear. Smile at the sunshine in the early morning and savor the taste of just-ripened fruit.  Do a lazy backstroke in the pool, if you have one, or enjoy the feel of a cooling shower if you don’t.  Term papers and deadlines can take a back seat for the moment.  Summer is calling with the promise of A Good Year.

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