Tuesday, December 11, 2012
It is this ache for the essence of fictional Weneshkeen and towns like it that draws together the stories in Steve Amick's "The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake." Mercifully, none of the characters seek soft-focused nostalgia in Weneshkeen, though it would have been easy to explore that route in a book about a summery Michigan town. No, the tales here are sharp and complex, and the characters are surprising.
One story follows Hubert vonBushberger, a cherry patriarch, as he reconciles his growing family--namely his son's new wife who used to be a migrant worker in his orchard--with a livelihood based on generations of tradition. (While it earns its emotions, this was actually the least realistic plot: the old guy, unimaginably, comes around whole-heartedly. I maintain he would have stewed in racist/classist/angry resentment until he died. Such cheery optimism is the exception, though, rather than the rule in this book.)
In the most humorous story, the crotchety Ojibwe/Vietnam vet Roger Drinkwater heroically battles, vandalizes, and generally tortures the jet skis and the people who drive them, for their sins against the serenity of Lake Weneshkeen (the "Other Lake") and Roger's morning swim. Roger's plight has all of the grandeur and comedy of Don Q, plus explosions.
There's a gruesome summertime fling between a sulky Oakland County boy and a troubled Chicago socialite; a no-nonsense deputy sheriff who aspires to write for David Letterman; a failing young businessman who has built an ostentatious getaway mansion that he can no longer afford; a girl from downstate who's spending the summer remembering how to love her immature dad. The most unexpected character evolves from Eugene Reecher, an older, intelligent reverend who recently lost his wife. He learns to use the Internet, and the life he had always known quickly unravels. Eugene's struggle is personal, dark, and beautiful--not the kind of thing you expect to confront in what might have been a beach read.
I read this book aloud to BCB while we were visiting the quiet of his own Up North, a cottage on Bois Blanc Island, over his birthday weekend. (My voice cracked a few times during Eugene's stories, and BCB had to take over.) It's not an airy book, and it will not weave seamlessly into sandy, sunny days of summertime leisure. But I can think of no better place to read "The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake" than at someone's home-that's-better-than-home in northern Michigan.
Posted by Erika Jost at 9:00 AM