Song Lake Summer
a novel by Gene Lees
This lyrical novel is a memoir of a remarkable man who lived in Upstate New York at the end of the nineteenth century. It is as well the story of two men of deeply disparate backgrounds who discover a need of each other. And it is a portrait of a region.
It draws on books of the period as well as later interviews and reminiscences, and on Edward Noyes Westcott's novel David Harum, the incidents in which by various testimonies were almost entirely factual. The novel was an enormous international success in its time but is largely forgotten today.
It was a period when, through such writers as Bret Hart, Mark Twain, and Sarah Orne Jowett, America was discovering itself.
Well, I have been a fan of Gene Lees for sometime. Of course, this covers his writings on music and musicians. His vignettes on jazz musicians, singers, and arrangers are legendary. I believe this is his first fiction piece and it is beautiful to read. The detail is amazing, the portrait he creates of person and place is a throwback to the days when fiction was a joy to read, and stories with real people living real lives something to experience without the prolific smut, angst or unwanted detailed sex most authors think they need to include to sell their book. Lees builds his story carefully like an architect plans a building or beautiful garden. His prose is classic and his sincerity obvious. Gene Lees loves his subjects in music and now loves his well crafted fictional characters just as much. Song Lake Summer is a fine piece of work and a delight to read. If you like the classic writers as I do, you can at last enjoy an up-to-date author who has found his way to great fiction for all of us to read and appreciate.
– Richard Grudens
From Chapter One
"And that, I am sorry to say, is the situation," General Woolsey concluded. He was a big man, hard muscled in spite of his age, with a stone countenance whose most conspicuous features were a large cleft chin and gray walrus mustaches that all but concealed his mouth when he fell silent. He had been seriously wounded at Vicksburg, John knew. His veined hands rested motionless on the yellow oak of his heavy desk, and his pale blue eyes were soft with compassion as they looked unblinkingly at John Lenox. "If I can lend you some money..."
"No sir," John said. "I appreciate your offer, General, but I must gratefully decline to accept."
The general's low voice had the measured steadiness of habitual command. "The estimate is that you will realize about two thousand dollars when everything has been sold and all claims against the estate have been met."
"My piano should bring another thousand," John said. He was a slim young man with a long face now drained and pale with growing comprehension of his prospects. His thick straight hair was very dark, his skin had a slight olive hue, and his eyes were a deep liquid brown. They had an almost haunted expression and, had he not been a man, they would have been described as beautiful. Fellow students had often remarked that he slightly resembled the famous portrait of Chopin, which he had come to find quite ironic. He sat erect and still at the visitor's side of the desk, looking at the general in his high leather chair, back to a large window through which one could see, below and in the distance, the masts and furled sails of ships at anchor in the Hudson and, beyond, the early-summer green of New Jersey farms.
"You do not have to sell your piano, John. I must reiterate that you are under no legal obligation for your father's debts."
– Doug Ramsey
About the Author
One of the world's most acclaimed writers on music, Gene Lees is the author of eighteen books, including biographies of Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman, and Johnny Mercer, as well as several volumes of essays. He is six-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award.
He has been a newspaper reporter, foreign correspondent, classical music and jazz critic, music and drama editor of the Louisville Times, editor of Down Beat, contributing editor for High Fidelity and Stereo Review, contributor to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Globe and Mail, and many other publications in America and Europe.
He is equally known as a lyricist whose songs have been recorded by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more. He was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and lives in California.
"Song Lake Summer lives up to its lyrical title. Around a scrap of historical lore, Gene Lees weaves a tale whose noble characters–and a scoundrel or two–live in a time and place he makes us wish we had known. Lees has the ability, reminiscent of Chekhov, to explore feelings and inner conflicts that his characters cannot define in themselves. The atmosphere is enchanting, the historical detail exacting, the love story unforgettable."
– Doug Ramsey
author of Poodie James
"Times and again Lees wields his luminous, deceptively simple prose and comes up with something magical."
– Los Angeles Daily News
"One of those writers who's a joy to read on any subject at all."
– Book World