Friday, August 29, 2008

A Small Gem: Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks

Martha Brooks has a gift for writing such quiet, lovely stories. It's like they just come floating out of her. She's like if Chekhov were Canadian and wrote stories for teen girls.

Mistik Lake is primarily about family, although there is a story of first love woven into it as well. More precisely, it's about the unravelling of secrets that have broken three generations of a family apart. It's also about compassion and forgiveness. Rich themes which Brooks anchors in the city of Winnipeg and the small town of Mistik Lake, particularly in its Icelandic community.

The three main characters are Sally Thornsteinsson, her daughter Odella, and her Aunt Gloria. Sally is emotionally scarred by her involvement in a serious accident that took place when she was 16; she and three friends crashed through the ice on Mistik Lake in a car, and only Sally made it out. Sally bears a poisonous, hidden guilt which leads her to make some poor choices with her life, and which eventually lead her to abandon her husband and three daughters. Odella, her oldest child, takes on the task of looking after her sisters, but eventually breaks away to a cabin on Mistik Lake where she finds insight into her mother's past as well as first love. Also involved in the story is Gloria, Sally's aunt and Odella's great-aunt, who lives far away from the family in order to hide her relationship with another woman, but who always returns when she is needed.

It's amazing how Brooks manages to convey such nuances of emotion with prose that always feels so unencumbered. The stories of Odella and Jimmy's love, and Gloria and Violet's, are sweet and even a little sexy in a way that is implied rather than shown, and serve as a counterpoint to Sally's more sombre story. This is a book that rewards rereading, and lingers on when you are done.

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