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Book Review: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards

Posted By Julia Braun Kessler On January 4, 2011 @ 7:00 am In Fiction Reviews | No Comments

The Lake of Dreams: A Novel
by Kim Edwards
Viking Adult, 400 pp.
CLR Rating:


Championing A Hidden Dream

….And this odd light. The constellations are as familiar as the lines on her own palms, so she does not have to search to find the comet. It soars high, a streaming jewel, circling the years, thrilling and portentous. Distantly a dog barks, and the chickens rustle and complain in their coops. Soft voices rise, mingling, her brother’s and another, one she knows; her heart quickens with anger and yearning both. She hesitates. She has not planned this moment — the turning point of her life it will become. ….All day she has been dreaming of the comet, its wild and fiery beauty, what it might mean, how her life might change….

Preface, The Lake of Dreams

If anything can be said with certainty about our fickle reading public, it is that they will warmly welcome a finely-wrought family tale. It would seem that we all relish revelations of the darkest secrets in the early histories of our kinfolk. So it came as little surprise in 2006 when a young unknown, Kim Edwards, swept us up altogether with her debut family novel.

Set back in 1964, that book concerns a young doctor, living in an isolated up-state New York town, who is forced to deliver his own offspring when the physician scheduled to do so is held up because a sudden snow storm plaguing the area hits just as his wife goes into labor. The startled physician is soon to discover that she will bear him twins, the first of whom comes forth as a joyous arrival — that of a healthy baby boy. However, this is quickly followed by the birth of yet another, a little girl, and she is an infant whom he immediately recognizes as “Mongoloid.”

Much in keeping with the customs of those times, his instantaneous decision is to send the second child away to a special care facility at a nearby community. He acts swiftly in this, decisively, and without so much as alerting his still-unconscious wife of their second child’s existence! Straightaway, he dispatches this newborn, in the charge of the nurse attending him at her birth, and its only witness, to take the child from the scene, never to be seen again. His momentous act proves the unfortunate choice that is to haunt the entire course of their future lives together.

Thus, did Edwards splash on to the scene, selling millions of books internationally and dominating the best-seller lists worldwide for months on end. She was recognized as a natural storyteller, even compared to some great talents of the 19th century, whose creations we could care so much about that we’d read through scene after scene into the late hours, just to be certain that the heroic characters would be safe in the end.

Now, here she is again with a wholly new family chronicle in The Lake of Dreams, and this one, hinting of greater dissembling and concealment. With her character’s haunting discovery of a well-hidden sister to the family’s patriarch, her great-great grandfather Joseph Jarrett, and of that young person’s notorious hidden past, she is set on a whirlwind path towards an exposure which seems breathtaking, unstoppable, and even uncontrollable. It is as though she has sought such news about her ancestry all of her young life to somehow enable herself to come to terms with her own worldly search for selfhood.

Once again, this novel is set in the territory our author knows so well, and we are privileged to enter into a regional life even now characteristic in those most Northern regions of rural New York. And, with her powers of observation we are enabled to join in for another remarkable story, one completely unpredictable in its numerous intricacies and revelations.

We meet Lucy Jarrett first as she returns home to this environment after years out in the wider world. Lucy has lived and worked abroad, having trained as a hydrologist, which she describes to us in her own words:

“which is to say that I study the movement of water in the world on the surface and beneath earth, and I’d been doing research for multi-national companies for nearly half a decade by the time I met Yoshi in Jakarta. We’d fallen in love the way it is possible to fall in love overseas, cut off from everything we’d known so the country we inhabited was of our own making, really, and subject to our own desires. This is the only continent that matters….”

Actively engaged in such important work still, yet having accompanied her lover to his work as an architect in Japan, she finds herself currently unemployed and restless, as well as in considerable turmoil, given the continuing earthquakes plaguing Japan since their arrival there.

Then, suddenly, upon learning via email that her mother has been in an auto accident, that her car had been totaled and, that she herself remained in the hospital having suffered numerous injuries, including a broken arm, she must consider the need to get home to visit her.

Still, after her mother’s next message comes to assure her that she is feeling better, Lucy hesitates yet again. And it is only then that Yoshi, her affectionate partner intervenes and lovingly urges her to make the trip anyway,

“Sometimes loneliness is an emergency situation, Lucy.”

And when she persists in these protests telling him, “It’s just the timing,” and proceeds to confess her truest fears, her worries, her urgency in her need to seek out employment before all things, he insists. She herself, needs to take the break, he explains, that these events perhaps came as a sign, and that they would allow her the time to think things out. He next adds even more significantly,

“… I mean, lately you seem like a very sad and lonely person, that’s all.”

The truth of these words strike her deeply and it is not long before she too comes to the realization that she must indeed take this trip back home, and do it as soon as possible! Hardly can she anticipate yet just how this visit would prove meaningful in her own future life and happiness.

As she voyages back, so many reflections pour in. It has been ten whole years since the shock of her father’s death by drowning first hit, and even now the exact circumstances of that day remain vague. Lucy well remembers his jaunty offer to take her out fishing with him that afternoon, and, painfully too, her own brusque rejection of her father’s invitation — as any teen-ager might have done — in favor of a wilder excursion with her then motor-cycling beau, Keenan Fall.

Soon after had come the summer when she had already left her home town, The Lake of Dreams, to take up a scholarship and to proceed with her college studies. And, so followed those many years when she had gone forward to graduate studies and employment in other countries far away from home. Lucy had never turned back.

Arriving now from Japan, she soon realizes how the events of those troubled times are already much pushed into the background, that the people she once knew and loved have forgotten them or put the incidents behind them. Inevitably, they have gone on with their lives. Many have even disappeared altogether, while some have already returned to live again in The Lake of Dreams after years away from it.

Her own mother, she now finds, has quite recently acquired a suitor. Her brother, Blake, is currently employed by their uncle, and is about to father a child with his former sweetheart, once more his lover, while she herself seems to have emerged in this growing, heavily-touristed community as the head of the finest gourmet restaurant in town.

Thus, do old prejudices and family feuds go unacknowledged. Lucy is startled to find, for example, that her uncle, who had constantly been at odds with his brother, her father, was now much in evidence at the old Jarrett house itself, as he assisted her widowed mother with its maintenance.

Still, it is only when Lucy herself, while roaming about in that decaying family house suddenly discovers a batch of old letters hidden away for many generations below a window seat upstairs in a garret room, that she is to become enrapt in that mystery which will succeed in setting her altogether free of the past, and reveal for her more of her own worldly aspirations, than she can ever anticipate!

This history of her forgotten ancestor will tell of remarkable courage, teach her of heartache and love, and, in the end, of admirable achievement. What it brings her, is news of that ghostly voice singing out to us immediately as we open this new work. (It is quoted above from the Edward’s Preface to the novel.) So it is that we first hear of a young woman seeking out the wonders in the sight of the scheduled appearance of “a comet,” and finding far more that evening than what she sought! Events that will change the course of her own future.

Kim Edwards has, in fact, done it again, riveting us to her story. And if one can take issue at all with the book, it would be a need to carp over the touches of political correctness that pervade each of her characters! This tendency in the author’s delineations does take from them a certain credibility. It tells us as well that Edwards, while a natural in the telling of a tale, has yet to learn that characters are wholly convincing when they act within a story’s limits and not by advertising their “green” credentials, “do-goodism” or socially-minded intentions. Nor, are “bad guys” necessarily defined by those who would change the landscape, build towering buildings, or profit by their enterprise.

Even so, Edward’s The Lake of Dreams is a notable contribution and a worthy successor to her first novel.


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