Published by St. Martin's Press on January 21, 2014
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a novel about heartbroken people finding hope at a magical place in Georgia called Lost Lake.
Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages -- and her heart -- back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost... until they are found.
I had heard of Sarah Addison Allen when her novel The Peach Keeper came out, but I never managed to pick up anything by her. A while back, I read a review of Lost Lake on a blog (can’t remember which one!) and was immediately intrigued. There is something so magical about summertime and spending it at a “lost” dilapidated lake sounded like something else. I think the cover is absolutely gorgeous – the colours are so mysterious, somehow, and the lights are beautiful – and if I had walked by it in a bookstore or library, I probably would’ve picked it up. It looks like my kind of book.
Looking back on this book the best way I can describe it is like a summer memory. You know those memories of summer that seem tinged by the hot, hazy weather, of days that melt together and nothing much is happening, but at the same time it feels like a magical time of year somehow? That’s what this book reminds me of. This book is a contemporary and it feels true to life but at the same time like a dream, and it’s in this way that the tiny magical elements feel so at home in it.
I didn’t read the jacket copy until I already had the book home, but I was immediately wary of the single mother cliché – it’s something that I usually don’t enjoy, probably because I feel so far from motherhood myself. But Kate’s problems with her daughter are really just indicative of her problems with herself. Ultimately Kate’s struggle with herself is universal; it’s a struggle through grief and confusion and wanting to understand and know one’s self, but feeling unable to. This is one of my favourite parts of the book:
“Kate was tired of sacrificing her happiness for someone else’s dreams. She’d done it for her mother when she was a teenager, and she’d done it for Matt. She’d done it all willingly, but never again. For the past year, she’d been scared that she couldn’t actually live her own life, that she was someone who was inherently incapable of it. She was scared of being a bad parent. Scared of being alone. Scared to grieve. Not anymore. This, she thought, was where her real life was going to start. She didn’t know where it was going, but it was going to start here, where she used to know herself so well, where no one else’s rules made sense but her own.”
In this sense Lost Lake is a Bildungsroman, an exploration of Kate’s childhood and adulthood. The melding of these two opposing parts of her life is what brings her a sense of peace and hope for the future. It’s empowering and motivating to see Kate take charge of her own life and cope with her grief in a way that works for her. I like that she finds the strength that allows her to be independent of others, so when she does rely on someone, it’s because she truly loves them and wants a relationship with them.
While Kate did not grow up at Lost Lake and it’s not technically her home, there is a real sense that she is returning home to “find herself.” It reminds me so much of that Miranda Lambert song “The House That Built Me.” (Just listen to the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean.) Kate’s last happy childhood was spent at Lost Lake so in many ways her trip there as an adult is all about revisiting the past. She spends a lot of time revisiting her relationships from that period of her life: “Those stories were the sound track of my summer with you.” (My favourite quote. Ever. So sweet.) There is, relatedly, a strong sense of old vs. young, past vs. future, retirement vs. fresh start. The stories of Kate and her Aunt Eby are equally important in this novel, and it is interesting to compare Aunt Eby looking back on her past with tired eyes, with Kate looking to the future with hope. This contrast really provides some depth to the story, as it’s not just about Kate’s struggles, it’s about Eby’s, too.
Allen writes magical realism, which is “a literary genre in which realistic narrative is combined with surreal elements” (definition provided by I Believe In Story, which has an excellent post on the genre). As I mentioned before, the novel is definitely contemporary and seems completely realistic in most respects. The difference is the small moments which make you question the novel’s reality, as if there’s something not quite right that you just can’t quite put your finger on. The magical realism elements of the story really create a fun atmosphere and contribute to that overwhelming sense I described before of a lazy summer day.
One of the best ways I can think to describe this book is kind of like Sarah Dessen for adults. If you’ve read Sarah Dessen, you know what I mean – characterized by summery carefree days where the focus is on emotional development and burgeoning new relationships, not the details of one’s sordid past. This focus on character development is the highlight of the book, and if you like a focus on that in your reads, this is for you. For this who love summertime and all it entails, this will check that box too. Finally, it has a super slow, swoon-y romance that is sure to delight (I adore the love interest). I highly, highly recommend this if any of that sounds like something you’d love.
A Few Favourite Quotes:
“After they ate, there was silence, save for the thrumming of the nighttime wildlife, a strange sort of chorus that seemed to call from one side of the lake and answer on the other.”
“She understood that the hardest times in life to go through were when you were transitioning from one version of yourself to another.”
“‘I taught literature for nearly forty years. The books I read when I was twenty completely changed when I read them when I was sixty. You know why? Because the endings changed. After you finish a book, the story still goes on in your mind. You can never change the beginning. But you can always change the end. That’s what’s happening here.'”
“Lisette loved the flavors of old, simple recipes, ones made so often that their edges were worn down and they tasted soft and sure of themselves. They made her think of her grand-mère, who had lost her husband and two of her sons in the war. She had cried every day for a year, walking the same stretch of road from her home to the train station, waiting for them to come back. Her tears fell as black stones to the ground, and to this day those stones lodged themselves in car tires and let all the air out slowly in a wail. People called it Sorrow Road. Lisette had very few memories of her grand-mère and her house in the country. She remembered the bread she had baked there in a sooty black stove. And she remembered her grand-mère once holding out her spotted, papery fingers and telling Lisette that old hands made the best food. ‘Old hands can hold memories of good things,’ she had said.”