Talented Author Creates an African American Dynasty to Love
of a Distant Summer
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by Guy Johnson
Format: Hardcover, 584pp.
Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
Pub. Date: August 2002
Edition Desc: 1ST
Reviewed by Thumper
In Standing At The Scratch Line, Guy Johnson created one of the most memorable protagonists in literature with King Tremain. Johnson's second novel, Echoes of a Distant Summer, features the other members of the Tremain family. Echoes of A Distant Summer is a tale of vengeance, betrayal, violence, redemption and forgiveness, and is literally OFF THE HOOK! Please allow me to slip into my at-home colloquialism by stating, Guy Johnson showed his ass on this novel! Determining the best books of 2002 just got harder with the arrival of Echoes of a Distant Summer.
The novel continues the saga of the Tremain family, and concentrates on King Tremain's grandson, Jackson St. Clair Tremain. After spending summers with his grandfather in Mexico from the ages of eight to 18, Jackson turned his back on his grandfather. 18 years later, Jackson is forced back into his grandfather's world when he receives word from Mexico that King is dying. Jackson arrives at King's bedside, but soon after King is assassinated. In the search of the men responsible for his grandfather's murder, Jackson will face his past, his grandfather's, and the Tremain family's legacy as he continues his grandfather's lifelong mission in settling the debt owed to the Tremains in blood.
When I started the book, I was excited. My mouth got all set for the new adventures of King Tremain. WRONG. Although King is featured prominently in the book, especially through memories and ghostly appearances, Echoes of a Distant Summer is Jackson Tremain's story. I was initially disappointed, so it took me more than a minute to get comfortable with Jackson. Truth to tell, he isn't as colorful, nor does he capture my imagination as completely as King does. However, Jackson is cool, smart, and every bit as deadly as his grandfather is. I grew to like him.
Jackson Tremain is as fully developed as King is. He is a multi-dimensional, finely evolved character. Jackson grows through self-discovery, and his admission that there was more to his grandfather than his childhood perceptions is wonderful and realistic. In Jackson, the author was able to show a man in conflict with society's morals, the laws of survival, and the responsibilities of family. By discovering himself in his grandfather's shoes, Jackson not only gets to know his grandfather, but also acknowledges his true self.
The novel is full of emotions and drama. Johnson did not simply create a fascinating character in King, he created a fascinating family in the Tremains. Serena Tremain, King's wife, returns, as well as King's oldest son, Elroy, along with a few other Tremains. I couldn't stand Serena when I read Standing At The Scratch Line. I found myself involved in more than one heated discussion about her. In Echoes of a Distant Summer, Johnson skillfully fleshed out her character. There were a couple of characters that I wished Johnson could have spent a little longer with, namely Elroy, but if my fancy were granted the book would be over 1000 pages and climbing, I wouldn't have minded it one bit.
The 650+ page novel was big and yet it wasn't large enough for me. This is a feat in itself, for I hold tight to my thick book phobia. The novel was brilliantly paced. The interweaving of memories, letters, the present day, the year 1982, and historical backgrounds of the characters was flawless. I didn't want the book to end. My reluctance in finishing the novel became recognizable when I reached page 400 and I started to slow the pace of my reading. After having convinced myself a moment or two earlier to watch TV or vacuum my living room, I would somehow find myself with the book in my hands and was flipping pages and inhaling ink like nobody business.
Johnson undertook risky challenges in this novel. He started the novel with several individual sub-plots. I wondered how he would bind them together into one rope while not rushing or laboring the story. I need not had worried, for the story was in capable hands.
Another risk was to shift the perspective from King to Jackson. Not every plot can withstand being chronicled from another point of view, for it runs the likelihood of exposing the weakness of the original plot and/or the sequel. There are no signs of distress in this novel or the overall story that I could detect. Quite the contrary, I perceive a number of avenues the continuing saga of the Tremain family could undertake while remaining fresh and vibrant. Johnson has truly produced a remarkable dynasty.
Echoes of a Distant Summer is an astonishing, mesmerizing, wholly satisfying novel that is hard to put down. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books of the year. With this sophomore outing, Johnson proves that Standing At The Scratch Line was not a shooting star debut. He has the ear and voice of a gifted storyteller. Guy Johnson isn't an author to watch -- he is an author who has arrived!