Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

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Here is a gorgeous, slow-burning story set in the rural “badlands” of northern Ontario, where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape. For the farming Pye family, life is a Greek tragedy where the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, and terrible events occur—offstage.

Centerstage are the Morrisons, whose tragedy looks more immediate if less brutal, but is, in reality, insidious and divisive. Orphaned young, Kate Morrison was her older brother Matt’s protegee, her fascination for pond life fed by his passionate interest in the natural world. Now a zoologist, she can identify organisms under a microscope but seems blind to the state of her own emotional life. And she thinks she’s outgrown her siblings—Luke, Matt, and Bo—who were once her entire world.

In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, of resentments harbored and driven underground, Lawson ratchets up the tension with heartbreaking humor and consummate control, continually overturning one’s expectations right to the very end. Tragic, funny, unforgettable, Crow Lake is a quiet tour de force that will catapult Mary Lawson to the forefront of fiction writers today.

"I have pursued your dream single-mindedly; I have become familiar with books and ideas you never even imagined, and somehow, in the process of acquiring all that knowledge, I have managed to learn nothing at all."

Beautifully written and emotionally moving, Crow Lake is told through the point of view of a young woman who has lived through a certain type of family hell and survived it. Sort-of. Four children, different ages with different temperaments, are forced into bonds and responsibility that weighed them down when tragedy struck their family in a small town. Ultimately the book is about sacrifices people make and how they come to terms with it.

There isn't any surprise revelation at the end - the book didn't need that - but it was a sense of awakening for the protagonist, Kate. She finally opens her eyes and loses some of the blinders she had on for most of her life. I felt bad for not liking her some of the time because I kept reminding myself she was a vulnerable person drowning in tragedy at one point and that I probably just couldn't understand her view enough, but I can't help it - there's a small selfish, unlikable vibe she has going down.

The bonding of siblings with small town people who act like heroes was maybe the best part. I could care less about the twisted side story of the neighboring family, but the author took pains to inject foreshadowing and hinting galore about them - even opening the story by comparing the two. Really the book would have been just as good without that family and the secrets, but I suppose it did add another dimension to the storyline and where one character ended up, just probably not as strongly as the author intended it to.

Despite how beautifully written it was, how well the author handled the ups and downs of small-town life and tragic struggles, the book held little content other than a small step in the direction of personal growth. It leaves a bittersweet feeling in the chest that sad stories often imprint. It was a telling of how four lives evolved and how four people beat the odds in different ways, but my interest didn't raise above a three star by the end of it.

   Book Quotes:

“We are all bumbling along,side by side, week in, week out, our paths similar in some ways and different in others, all apparently running parallel. But parallel lines never meet.”

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