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Crow Lake
Cover of Crow Lake
Crow Lake
A Novel
Mary Lawson's debut novel is a shimmering tale of love, death and redemption set in a rural northern community where time has stood still. Tragic, funny and unforgettable, this deceptively simple...
Mary Lawson's debut novel is a shimmering tale of love, death and redemption set in a rural northern community where time has stood still. Tragic, funny and unforgettable, this deceptively simple...
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  • Mary Lawson's debut novel is a shimmering tale of love, death and redemption set in a rural northern community where time has stood still. Tragic, funny and unforgettable, this deceptively simple masterpiece about the perils of hero worship leapt to the top of the bestseller lists only days after being released in Canada and earned glowing reviews in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail, to name a few. It will be published in more than a dozen countries worldwide, including the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Italy and Bulgaria.
    Luke, Matt, Kate and Bo Morrison are born in an Ontario farming community of only a few families, so isolated that “the road led only south.” There is little work, marriage choices are few, and the winter cold seeps into the bones of all who dare to live there. In the Morrisons’ hard-working, Presbyterian house, the Eleventh Commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Emote.” But as descendants of a great-grandmother who “fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning,” the Morrison children have some hope of getting off the land through the blessings of education. Luke, the eldest, is accepted at teachers college – despite having struggle mightily through school – but before he can enroll, the Morrison parents are killed in a collision with a logging truck. He gives up his place to stay home and raise his younger sisters — seven-year-old Kate, and Bo, still a baby.
    In this family bound together by loss, the closest relationship is that between Kate and her older brother Matt, who love to wander off to the ponds together and lie on the bank, noses to the water. Matt teaches his little sister to watch “damselflies performing their delicate iridescent dances,” to understand how water beetles “carry down an air bubble with them when they submerge.” The life in the pond is one that seems to go on forever, in contrast to the abbreviated lives of the Morrison parents. Matt becomes Kate’s hero and her guide, as his passionate interest in the natural world sparks an equal passion in Kate.
    Matt, a true scholar, is expected to fulfill the family dream by becoming the first Morrison to earn a university degree. But a dramatic event changes his course, and he ends up a farmer; so it is Kate who eventually earns the doctorate and university teaching position. She is never able to reconcile her success with what she considers the tragedy of Matt’s failure, and she feels a terrible guilt over the sacrifices made for her. Now a successful biologist in her twenties, she nervously returns home with her partner, a microbiologist from an academic family, to celebrate Matt’s son’s birthday. Amid the clash of cultures, Kate takes us in and out of her troubled childhood memories. Accustomed to dissecting organisms under a microscope, she must now analyze her own emotional life. She is still in turmoil over the events of one fateful year when the tragedy of another local family spilled over into her own. There are things she cannot understand or forgive.
    In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, Lawson ratchets up the tension, her narrative flowing with consummate control in ever-increasing circles, overturning one’s expectations to the end. Compared by Publishers Weekly to Richard Ford for her lyrical, evocative writing, Lawson combines deeply drawn characters, beautiful writing and a powerful description of the land.

Excerpts-

  • From the book 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...

About the Author-

  • MARY LAWSON was born and brought up in a small farming community in Ontario. She is the author of Crow Lake, and The Other Side of the Bridge, both international bestsellers. Crow Lake was a New York Times bestseller and was chosen as a Book of the Year by The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others. The Other Side of the Bridge was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her latest novel, Road Ends, was a national bestseller and finalist for the Folio Prize. Lawson lives in England but returns to Canada frequently.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 4, 2002
    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.

  • Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat "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)."
  • David Macfarlane, author of Summer Gone "I didn't read Crow Lake so much as I fell in love with it. This is one beautiful book."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "A finely crafted debut ... conveys an astonishing intensity of emotion, almost Proustian in its sense of loss and regret."
  • Daily Mail (London) "Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note."
  • The Globe and Mail "A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake."
  • W.P. Kinsella, First Novels "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."
  • The Telegram "Crow Lake mesmerizes. ... Crow Lake may be one of the loveliest novels you almost ever read."
  • The Hamilton Spectator "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 New York Times "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."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) "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."
  • Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail (UK) "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."
  • Terry Rigelhof, The Globe and Mail "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."
  • Maureen Garvie, Quill & Quire starred review "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."
  • Amazon.co.uk "Lawson's narrative flows effortlessly in ever-increasing circles,

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