Former editor of the "New York Times Book Review" Charles McGrath’s memoir looks back at that sun-soaked season, at family, youth, and a singular bond made at a time when he thought he was beyond making friends.
Sun-drenched and deeply touching ... At first, the narrative’s a bit of a grab bag. There’s some breezy sociological background about the democratization of leisure in America, followed by a darkly comic chapter of family history that doesn’t pull any punches ... The true subject of The Summer Friend isn’t golfing or boating or napping, or any of the other leisure-time activities that McGrath rhapsodizes about. As the title suggests, the heart of the book is the story of a friendship, and this is where it shines ... It’s no spoiler to reveal that Chip G.’s untimely death casts a shadow over the book. McGrath eulogizes his summer friend in the very first chapter, then brings him to life on the subsequent pages with such vividness and palpable affection that the reader forgets his fate for long stretches ... When the end finally comes, in a chapter simply called 'Dying,' it lands like a gut punch. It’s heartbreaking to see Chip G. in his final days, and McGrath doesn’t spare us the painful details. Regretting his previous silence, he writes his dying friend a letter, trying to express his gratitude for their time together, but it’s not enough: 'This book is what I should have given him.' McGrath’s book is an act of love, a fitting tribute to his old friend and a poignant reminder to all of us to squeeze every last drop out of the summers that remain.
In these times of dire memoirs — hard stories by survivors of war and abuse, emigration and illness — is there a place for an older white guy recalling golden summers of golf and boating? I think there is, when it's written as tenderly as The Summer Friend, Charles McGrath's ode to friendship and nostalgia ... McGrath's memoir is as much about his childhood summers as it is about his summers as a grown-up, and he moves back and forth seamlessly between second person (for the general) and first person (for the specific). That shift keeps the tone intimate but not overwhelmingly self-centered. These things I'm writing about, McGrath seems to say, are things we all understand ... McGrath writes about golf games and boating excursions in perhaps more detail than most would want to read, but the poignancy of the final chapters is genuinely touching. Anyone who has lost a friend will understand.
... peeks inside the psyche of one such male friendship between not-quite bros forever but seasonal pals. As such, this memoir is pitch-perfect for outdoorsy dads, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, and the like ... By now, you’ve deduced that this memoir is more about the author than his subject, and parts are achingly sad, particularly when McGrath writes about his parents ... it’s too late for the summer friend, but certainly not for readers.