Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bleak Crow Lake Comes to Disappointing End

(Image from Random House)

Tiny Crow Lake seems to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of place, but behind closed doors, anything can - and does - happen. The small farming community protects its own, but also keeps to its own. So, when trouble brews at the Pye Family's farm, nobody takes much notice. The Pyes have always had their problems. For 7-year-old Kate Morrison, the Pyes' troubles seem a million miles away (though, in truth, the Pyes are her nearest neighbors); her world consists of studying at the one-room schoolhouse, watching her little sister and exploring the ponds on her family's property with the older brother she idolizes. Although her parents are fairly austere (The Morrisons' 11th Commandment, according to Kate, is "Thou Shalt Not Emote"), her home life is stable and happy. When a freak car accident kills her parents, however, her safe little world shatters.

Although several relatives offer to take the younger children, 19-year-old Luke Morrison can't stand the thought of separating what remains of his family. Although he was poised to become the first in his family to go to college, his plans move to the back burner. Working at the Pye farm, he barely manages to scrape up enough money to keep the house running. Matt, Kate's brilliant 17-year-old brother, faces his own dilemma - stay at school or quit in order to work more hours? With money dwindling, tension between the brothers, and a grief-stricken toddler to deal with, things are unraveling at an alarming rate. When a crisis at the Pye farm engulfs The Morrisons as well, everything crumbles. How much tragedy can one family take before it breaks completely? Will any of them come through unscathed?

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson explores tragedy, hardship, and the myriad ways grief can split people apart or bind them together. The tone of the novel echoes the bleakness of its setting (Crow Lake is a fictional town situated in the midst of northern Ontario's untamed wilderness). The story is narrated by Kate, now a 27-year-old professor, whose memories are jarred by an invitation to attend a party in her hometown. She's turned into a cold, emotionless woman who is so scarred by her past she has trouble connecting with people - from her past or present. The trip home, accompanied by an inquisitive boyfriend, will make her face her traumatic childhood once and for all.

Although it seems depressing, this novel isn't quite as dark as it sounds. It's bleak, to be sure, but ultimately hopeful. The characters are strong, the plot moves right along, and the suspense builds nicely. After the build-up, however, The Big Reveal seems anticlimatic, even predictable. I wasn't thrilled with the ending either. By the conclusion, I had had about enough of Kate. I empathized with her to a point, but after awhile I just wanted to slap her out of her selfish, judgmental haze. I would have given the novel an A because of believable characters, a suspenseful plot and solid writing, if only it hadn't been for the crap ending. All in all, I liked Crow Lake, I just wanted a more satisfying conclusion.

Grade: B-

2 comments:

  1. I read this book a few years ago for a book club I belonged to, and didn't really find that I got anything from it. My way of thinking is that if a book is going to be bleak and dreary, then I should at least take away a life lesson or something. No such luck with Crow Lake. Glad I'm not the only one that was slightly disappointed.

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