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Crow Lake [Paperback]

Mary Lawson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Amazon

2002 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award Winner: Mary Lawson's debut novel is a beautifully crafted and shimmering tale of love, death and redemption set in the eponymous Crow Lake, an isolated rural community where time has stood still. Narrated by 26-year-old Kate Morrison, we dive in and out of the troubled woman's childhood memories over the passage of a year--when she was seven and her parents were killed in a motoring accident, leaving Kate, her younger sister Bo and two older brothers Matt and Luke orphaned. The proverbial can of worms is opened for our heroine when she receives an invitation to Matt's son's 18th birthday. The successful zoologist and professor, so accustomed to dissecting everything through a microscope, must suddenly analyse her own relationship and come to terms with her past before she forsakes a future with the man she loves. She is still in turmoil over the events of that fateful summer and winter 20 years ago when the tragedy of another local family, the Pyes, spilled over into their own lives with earth-shattering consequences. One dark night, a shivering Laurie, Pye's only son, stands mute in their porchlight, straining to share something with them but, startled, turns and runs away. The many strange, longing looks which pass between Matt and Marie, Pye's eldest daughter. And the awful night when Marie stands in their doorway whispering unspeakable horrors. In Kate's eyes, the Pye family drown out the hopes and dreams of her own in that one moment. But does the tragedy really lie in the past or is it in the present? Lawson's narrative flows effortlessly in ever-increasing circles, swirling impressions in the reader's mind until form takes shape and the reader is left to reflect on the whole. Crow Lake is a wonderful achievement that will ripple in and out the reader's consciousness long after the last page is turned. --Nicola Perry

From Publishers Weekly

Four children living in northern Ontario struggle to stay together after their parents die in an auto accident in Lawson's fascinating debut, a compelling and lovely study of sibling rivalry and family dynamics in which the land literally becomes a character. Kate Morrison narrates the tale in flashback mode, starting with the fatal car accident that leaves seven-year-old Kate; her toddler sister, Bo; 19-year-old Luke; and 17-year-old Matt to fend for themselves. At first they are divided up among relatives, but the plan changes when Luke gives up his teaching college scholarship to get a job and try to keep them together. The fractured family struggles mightily against the grinding rural poverty of Crow Lake, and the brothers conduct a fierce battle of wills to control their fate, until they both finally land jobs and the family gets some assistance from a neighbor. Unfortunately, that assistance can't overcome the deranged rage of a neighboring farmer, Cyrus Pye, and when Matt becomes involved with Pye's daughter, Maria, a tragic incident robs the brilliant young man of a chance to pursue a career as a naturalist. Kate goes on to become a zoologist at a Toronto college and marry a fellow academic, but her frustration with her brother's fate renders her unable to return to Crow Lake to visit him until the pivotal climax. Lawson delivers a potent combination of powerful character writing and gorgeous description of the land. Her sense of pace and timing is impeccable throughout, and she uses dangerous winter weather brilliantly to increase the tension as the family battles to survive. This is a vibrant, resonant novel by a talented writer whose lyrical, evocative writing invites comparisons to Rick Bass and Richard Ford. (Mar.)Forecast: The combination of orphan protagonists and effortless prose makes this an irresistible first effort. Foreign rights have already been sold in nine countries, and similar enthusiasm should be expected in the U.S.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Lawson sets her novel in a small farming community in northern Ontario. A mile or so away are the ponds-old gravel pits-where the Morrison children spend hours lying on their stomachs watching the life underwater. Seventeen-year-old Matt explains the wonders to his seven-year-old sister. The story begins with Kate thinking back on those days that shaped her adult life; when both parents were killed in a car accident, Luke, 19, took on the responsibility of caring for the family. Even with help from the community, bringing up a one-year-old and young Kate are frightening for him, and life is hard for all of the grief-stricken siblings. Eventually Matt drops out of school and settles in as a farmer, working for a neighbor who is an abusive husband and father. The adult Kate is a successful zoologist, but her past gets in the way of her relationship with Daniel. She can't discuss her early life and her feelings of disconnection from her family, especially beloved Matt, who, she feels, threw away his life. Kate reluctantly invites Daniel to Crow Lake with her for her nephew's birthday, where she finally comes to terms with the past. In this beautifully written first novel, the descriptions of the difficulties that the Morrisons face are real, painful, humorous, and agonizing, and the characters and the setting are well defined and easily visualized. This is not a fast-paced story, but it is hard to put down.
Sydney Hausrath, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Kate has escaped rural Ontario to lead the life of a distinguished zoologist, but she's drawn back to the siblings left at Crow Lake. Publishers in nine countries have bought the rights to this Canadian work, and that many publishers can't be wrong.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

For generations, learning has been the valued goal in Kate's family, but when her parents die, oldest brother Luke's college acceptance must be put aside so that he can keep the family together. Real help comes from their community in rural northern Canada, and the initial efforts of the two oldest brothers make it possible for the younger children, including seven-year-old Kate, to remain in a household filled with love and humor. As an adult, however, Kate, a professor of environmental science in Toronto, looks back with a sense of tragedy and loss, not so much for her parents, but for her brother Matt. The reader knows that something terrible is going to happen, although which of the dire events is deemed worst is based on the child Kate's values and judgment. Lawson achieves a breathless anticipatory quality in her surprisingly adept first novel, in which a child tells the story, but tells it very well indeed. Danise Hoover
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

Crow Lake is a remarkable novel, utterly gripping and yet highly literate. I read it in a single sitting, then I read it again, just for pleasure. I await her next work with eagerness (and a little envy).”
— Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

“I didn’t read Crow Lake so much as I fell in love with it. This is one beautiful book.”
— David Macfarlane, author of Summer Gone

"A finely crafted debut ... conveys an astonishing intensity of emotion, almost Proustian in its sense of loss and regret."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note.” -- Daily Mail (London)

“A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake.”
The Globe and Mail

“The best [first novel for 2002] that I have read so far…compulsively readable.”
— Sandra Martin, The Globe and Mail (Dec. 27, 2001)

Crow Lake…is a spellbinding story…a marvelous story….The bitter land and climate of Northern Ontario are like characters in this story of four orphaned children struggling to stay together as a family….The language is subtle but beautiful. The reader is drawn into the lives of the characters…. The prospects for success are endless.”
—W.P. Kinsella, First Novels

Crow Lake mesmerizes. … Crow Lake may be one of the loveliest novels you almost ever read.”
The Telegram

Crow Lake [is] superb, elegant…. Lawson is a brilliant storyteller; she takes her time in laying the foundation of her tale and layering on the complexities. She’s also an elegant stylist; her prose is lyrically thoughtful…. The depth, honesty and feeling throughout are superbly wrought. Crow Lake is a wondrous thing -- it’s a new Canadian classic.”
The Hamilton Spectator

“The assurance with which Mary Lawson handles both reflection and violence makes her a writer to read and watch….. Peripheral portraits are skillfully drawn. Pot-banging Bo, with her minimal vocabulary of mostly shouted words, speaks to the heart without a scrap of sentimentality. The combative Cranes, unusual among fictional academics, are funny without being ridiculous and square off over the tablecloth with intelligence intact…. Most impressive are the nuanced and un-self-conscious zoological metaphors that thread through the text.”
The New York Times

“Lawson delivers a potent combination of powerful character writing and gorgeous description of the land. Her sense of pace and timing is impeccable throughout, and she uses dangerous winter weather brilliantly to increase the tension as the family battles to survive. This is a vibrant, resonant novel by a talented writer whose lyrical evocative writing invites comparisons to Rick Bass and Richard Ford.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note or a showy sentence."
— Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail (UK)

“Crow Lake: deep, clear and teeming with life. A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake...So have I. Within days, you'll see people reading Crow Lake in odd places as they take quick breaks from the business of their lives. You'll also hear people say, ‘I stayed up all night reading this book by Mary Lawson.’ Mary Lawson, Mary Lawson. Remember the name…. Kate Morrison’s voice overturns convention and makes everything fresher, larger, livelier than it first appears…. She is very special. So is Crow Lake…. This is the real thing.”
—Terry Rigelhof, The Globe and Mail

"Every detail in this beautifully written novel rings true, the characters so solid we almost feel their flesh. Bo must be one of the most vividly realized infants in recent literature. Lawson creates a community without ever giving in to the Leacockian impulse to poke fun at small-town ways, instead showing respect to lives shaped by hard work and starved for physical comfort. The adult Kate’s alienation from Crow Lake is initially difficult to accept, for everything in Kate’s life, including her career in science, reflects the values of her formative years on the farm. Soon, though, her crippling guilt becomes the mystery that draws the reader on."
— Maureen Garvie, Quill & Quire starred review

“Lawson's narrative flows effortlessly in ever-increasing circles, swirling impressions in the reader's mind until form takes shape and the reader is left to reflect on the whole. Crow Lake is a wonderful achievement that will ripple in and out the reader's consciousness long after the last page is turned.”
— Amazon.co.uk

“Critics are raving about…Crow Lake, a tightly plotted page-turner about sibling love, murder, and invertebrate zoology in rural Ontario, set in the 1950s and ‘60s."
— Judy Stoffman, The Toronto Star

"Lawson achieves a breathless anticipatory quality in her surprisingly adept first novel, in which a child tells the story, but tells it very well indeed.”
— Danise Hoover, Booklist

From the Back Cover

Crow Lake is a remarkable novel, utterly gripping and yet highly literate. I read it in a single sitting, then I read it again, just for pleasure. I await her next work with eagerness (and a little envy).” -- Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

“I didn’t read Crow Lake so much as I fell in love with it. This is one beautiful book.” -- David Macfarlane, author of Summer Gone

"A finely crafted debut ... conveys an astonishing intensity of emotion, almost Proustian in its sense of loss and regret." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note.” -- Daily Mail (London)

“A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake.” -- The Globe and Mail

“The best [first novel for 2002] that I have read so far…compulsively readable.” -- Sandra Martin, The Globe and Mail (Dec. 27, 2001)

Crow Lake…is a spellbinding story…a marvelous story….The bitter land and climate of Northern Ontario are like characters in this story of four orphaned children struggling to stay together as a family….The language is subtle but beautiful. The reader is drawn into the lives of the characters…. The prospects for success are endless.” -- W.P. Kinsella, First Novels

Crow Lake mesmerizes. … Crow Lake may be one of the loveliest novels you almost ever read.” -- The Telegram

Crow Lake [is] superb, elegant…. Lawson is a brilliant storyteller; she takes her time in laying the foundation of her tale and layering on the complexities. She’s also an elegant stylist; her prose is lyrically thoughtful…. The depth, honesty and feeling throughout are superbly wrought. Crow Lake is a wondrous thing -- it’s a new Canadian classic.” -- The Hamilton Spectator

“The assurance with which Mary Lawson handles both reflection and violence makes her a writer to read and watch….. Peripheral portraits are skillfully drawn. Pot-banging Bo, with her minimal vocabulary of mostly shouted words, speaks to the heart without a scrap of sentimentality. The combative Cranes, unusual among fictional academics, are funny without being ridiculous and square off over the tablecloth with intelligence intact…. Most impressive are the nuanced and un-self-conscious zoological metaphors that thread through the text.” -- The New York Times

“Lawson delivers a potent combination of powerful character writing and gorgeous description of the land. Her sense of pace and timing is impeccable throughout, and she uses dangerous winter weather brilliantly to increase the tension as the family battles to survive. This is a vibrant, resonant novel by a talented writer whose lyrical evocative writing invites comparisons to Rick Bass and Richard Ford.” -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note or a showy sentence." -- Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail (UK)

“Crow Lake: deep, clear and teeming with life. A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake...So have I. Within days, you'll see people reading Crow Lake in odd places as they take quick breaks from the business of their lives. You'll also hear people say, ‘I stayed up all night reading this book by Mary Lawson.’ Mary Lawson, Mary Lawson. Remember the name…. Kate Morrison’s voice overturns convention and makes everything fresher, larger, livelier than it first appears…. She is very special. So is Crow Lake…. This is the real thing.” -- Terry Rigelhof, The Globe and Mail

"Every detail in this beautifully written novel rings true, the characters so solid we almost feel their flesh. Bo must be one of the most vividly realized infants in recent literature. Lawson creates a community without ever giving in to the Leacockian impulse to poke fun at small-town ways, instead showing respect to lives shaped by hard work and starved for physical comfort. The adult Kate’s alienation from Crow Lake is initially difficult to accept, for everything in Kate’s life, including her career in science, reflects the values of her formative years on the farm. Soon, though, her crippling guilt becomes the mystery that draws the reader on." -- Maureen Garvie, Quill & Quire starred review

“Lawson's narrative flows effortlessly in ever-increasing circles, swirling impressions in the reader's mind until form takes shape and the reader is left to reflect on the whole. Crow Lake is a wonderful achievement that will ripple in and out the reader's consciousness long after the last page is turned.” -- Amazon.co.uk

“Critics are raving about…Crow Lake, a tightly plotted page-turner about sibling love, murder, and invertebrate zoology in rural Ontario, set in the 1950s and ‘60s." -- Judy Stoffman, The Toronto Star

"Lawson achieves a breathless anticipatory quality in her surprisingly adept first novel, in which a child tells the story, but tells it very well indeed.” -- Danise Hoover, Booklist

About the Author

Mary Lawson was born and brought up in a farming community in southwestern Ontario. A distant relative of L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables), she moved to England in 1968, and now lives with her husband in Surrey. She returns to Canada every year. Asked on CBC’s This Morning what she misses most about Canada, she says without hesitation that it’s the rocks of the Canadian Shield. England has rocks, she says, but they are not smooth and rounded and “whale-like.”

Lawson is a firm believer in the strength of the influences we receive as children, a theme explored in the book. Lawson’s father was a research chemist for an oil company in Sarnia, Ontario, and the family lived in Blackwell, which was then a small farming community -- though not nearly as remote as that of Crow Lake -- and spent summers at a cottage up north.

She studied psychology at McGill University in Montreal in the mid-sixties, and says that Montreal was an eye-opening experience after growing up in Blackwell. “We had the radio, but we had no television, and relative to what kids know today … they are just so much more knowledgeable than we were.” She graduated in 1968 and went to England, finding work in a steel-industry research lab in London, which is where she met her husband, Richard.

Published under the “New Face of Fiction” program at age 55, Lawson calls herself a “late starter,” though she began writing when her sons were small. She joined a creative-writing class, which she continues to attend, mainly for the companionship, and she took literature courses to study other writers. She describes the first novel she wrote, which was set in England, as a disaster: though it was a good story with characters and plot, she didn’t know what she wanted to say. “It was a story without a point.”

Then her parents fell ill with cancer, and she spent a lot of time in Canada. She started writing Crow Lake shortly after the double trauma of her parents dying and her sons leaving home. “I was thinking a lot about the passing of time and different types of loss and the importance of family and the significance of childhood. I think you are particularly receptive when you are a kid, and you take in not just the physical landscape, but the society and the culture and what matters to people. And it all just sits there -- eventually, if you are a writer, it comes out.”

At length, a short story she wrote in the 1980s for Woman’s Realm magazine in England was transformed into Crow Lake. She sent the manuscript out several times before it found the right agent, who then responded enthusiastically within twenty-four hours. The characters in the novel are entirely invented, with the exception of the baby, Bo, who was modelled closely on her own little sister. She was interested in exploring the brother-sister relationship and the notion that family members establish roles for one another which are hard to break free from (“In my family…I’m the ‘Emoter’,” she notes). In particular, she wanted to look at hero worship and what happens “to the worshipper and to the hero” when the hero fails. While indebted to J. D. Salinger for pointing her towards using children as a subject, and to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the technique of writing a book with a child as narrator, Lawson says it was having her own children that taught her that people are born as individuals.

With its powerful emotional resonance, Crow Lake has already won the hearts of many readers, and Lawson’s next novel will be anxiously awaited.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

PROLOGUE

My great-grandmother Morrison fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning, or so the story goes. And one Saturday evening she became so absorbed in her book that when she looked up, she found that it was half past midnight and she had spun for half an hour on the Sabbath day. Back then, that counted as a major sin.

Im not recounting that little bit of family lore just for the sake of it. Ive come to the conclusion recently that Great-Grandmother and her book rest have a lot to answer for. Shed been dead for decades by the time the events occurred that devastated our family and put an end to our dreams, but that doesnt mean she had no influence over the final outcome. What took place between Matt and me cant be explained without reference to Great-Grandmother. Its only fair that some of the blame should be laid at her door.

There was a picture of her in my parents room while I was growing up. I used to stand in front of it, as a very small child, daring myself to meet her eyes. She was small, tight-lipped, and straight, dressed in black with a white lace collar (scrubbed ruthlessly, no doubt, every single evening and ironed before dawn each day). She looked severe, disapproving, and entirely without humor. And well she might; she had fourteen children in thirteen years and five hundred acres of barren farmland on the Gaspé Peninsula. How she found time to spin, let alone read, Ill never know.

Of the four of us, Luke, Matt, Bo, and I, Matt was the only one who resembled her at all. He was far from grim, but he had the same straight mouth and steady gray eyes. If I fidgeted in church and got a sharp glance from my mother, I would peer sideways up at Matt to see if he had noticed. And he always had, and looked severe, and then at the last possible moment, just as I was beginning to despair, he would wink.

Matt was ten years older than I, tall and serious and clever. His great passion was the ponds, a mile or two away across the railroad tracks. They were old gravel pits, abandoned years ago after the road was built, and filled by nature with all manner of marvelous wriggling creatures. When Matt first started taking me back to the ponds I was so small he had to carry me on his shoulders through the woods with their luxuriant growth of poison ivy, along the tracks, past the dusty boxcars lined up to receive their loads of sugar beets, down the steep sandy path to the ponds themselves. There we would lie on our bellies while the sun beat down on our backs, gazing into the dark water, waiting to see what we would see.

There is no image of my childhood that I carry with me more clearly than that; a boy of perhaps fifteen or sixteen, fair-haired and lanky; beside him a little girl, fairer still, her hair drawn back in braids, her thin legs burning brown in the sun. They are both lying perfectly still, chins resting on the backs of their hands. He is showing her things. Or rather, things are drifting out from under rocks and shadows and showing themselves, and he is telling her about them.

Just move your finger, Kate. Waggle it in the water. Hell come over. He cant resist.

Cautiously the little girl waggles her finger; cautiously a small snapping turtle slides over to investigate.

See? Theyre very curious when theyre young. When he gets older, though, hell be suspicious and bad-tempered.

Why?

The old snapper they had trapped out on land once had looked sleepy rather than suspicious. Hed had a wrinkled, rubbery head, and she had wanted to pat it. Matt held out a branch as thick as his thumb and the snapper chopped it in two.

Their shells are small for the size of their bodies, smaller than most turtles, so a lot of their skin is exposed. It makes them nervous.

The little girl nods, and the ends of her braids bob up and down in the water, making tiny ripples which tremble out across the surface of the pond. She is completely absorbed.

Hundreds of hours, we must have spent that way over the years. I came to know the tadpoles of the leopard frogs, the fat gray tadpoles of the bullfrogs, the tiny black wriggling ones of toads. I knew the turtles and the catfish, the water striders and the newts, the whirligigs spinning hysterically over the surface of the water. Hundreds of hours, while the seasons changed and the pond life died and renewed itself many times, and I grew too big to ride on Matts shoulders and instead picked my way through the woods behind him. I was unaware of these changes of course, they happened so gradually, and children have very little concept of time. Tomorrow is forever, and years pass in no time at all.

CHAPTER ONE

When the end came, it seemed to do so completely out of the blue, and it wasnt until long afterward that I was able to see that there was a chain of events leading up to it. Some of those events had nothing to do with us, the Morrisons, but were solely the concern of the Pyes, who lived on a farm about a mile away and were our nearest neighbors. The Pyes were what youd call a problem family, always had been, always would be, but that year, within the privacy of their big old gray-painted farmhouse, offstage as far as the rest of the community was concerned, their problems were developing into a full-scale nightmare. The other thing we didnt know was that the Pye nightmare was destined to become entangled with the Morrison dream. Nobody could have predicted that.

Theres no end to how far back you can go, of course, when youre trying to figure out where something started. The search can take you back to Adam and beyond. But for our family there was an event that summer catastrophic enough to be the start of practically anything. It took place on a hot, still Saturday in July when I was seven years old, and brought normal family life to an end; even now, almost twenty years later, I find it hard to get any sort of perspective on it.

The only positive thing you can say about it is that at least everything ended on a high note, because the previous day, our last day together as a family, my parents had learned that Luke, my other brother, other than Matt, had passed his senior matriculation and won a place at teachers college. Lukes success was something of a surprise because, to put it mildly, he was not a scholar. I remember reading somewhere a theory to the effect that each member of a family has a role, ”the clever one, the pretty one, the selfish one. Once youve been established in the role for a while, youre stuck with it, no matter what you do, people will still see you as whatever-it-was, but in the early stages, according to the theory, you have some choice as to what your role will be. If thats the case, then early on in life Luke must have decided that what he really wanted to be was the problem one. I dont know what influenced his choice, but its possible that hed heard the story of Great-Grandmother and her famous book rest once too often. That story must have been the bane of Lukes life. Or one of the banes, the other would have been having Matt as a brother. Matt was so obviously Great-Grandmothers true intellectual heir that there was no point in Luke even trying. Better, then, to find what he was naturally good at, raising our parents blood pressure, say, and practice, practice, practice.

But somehow, in spite of himself, here he was at the age of nineteen having passed his exams. After three generations of striving, a member of the Morrison family was about to go on to higher education.
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