Thursday, March 08, 2007

Reader's Diary #237- Mary Lawson: Crow Lake (FINISHED)

The Lullabies For Little Criminals win on this year's Canada Reads, sparked many discussions about trendy novels. Is Lullabies trendy? Or was it a breath of fresh air in the dull halls of Canadian libraries? The answer to those questions depends on your definition of trendy. I'd be surprised though if anyone accused Crow Lake of being trendy.

But it's not boring either. Yes, it stays true to the CanLit stereotypes- set in rural Canada, nature plays a vital part, slow exploration of a tragedy and it's told in a pretty traditional writing style. Yet, even if none of that is your thing, it has a saving grace; Lawson's relationship with the reader.

More specifically Lawson's use of foreshadowing, essentially taunting the reader. From the very first chapter onward she alludes to a tragedy, some sort of catastrophe involving another family, and she keeps revisiting that topic, without revealing it until near the end. Lots of books use foreshadowing it's true, but Lawson seems to wield it like a sadistic weapon. And despite the tragedy, it makes for a fun reading experience. As I formed theories about what had exactly happened to the Morrison family, I found Lawson teasing me with details that may or may not impact on the outcome. It's not a murder mystery but she still unraveled the story in much the same way. Maybe less overt than that, but it was still the book's best quality in my opinion. Sometimes, I want a book to sideswipe me with the drama. Life is often that way, we aren't always provided with ample doses of foreshadowing. But in defense of Crow Lake, it's told as a series of flashbacks. Since it's told in hindsight, it would seem a little silly (and fake) not to allude to anything. Sideswiping is best left for the present tense.

There were times when the story wasn't perfect. As someone complained about Stanley Park during Canada Reads (how many times can I work that show into each post?), it sometimes felt too researched. In particular, the university descriptions. The rest of the story was pretty simply told, then suddenly I was getting a lesson on surfactants. Granted, a major theme of the story revolves around education and the potential it has to alienate people, so it could be argued that it's fitting and symbolic of the relationship Kate has with her brother Matt.

All in all, it was a great read. Not overly ambitious like the aforementioned Park book, but pleasant and smart nonetheless. I'm glad our book club picked it and I'm looking forward to reading Lawson's second novel, The Other Side Of The Bridge.

(Don't forget to plead my case on the Canada Reads site!)


Sam Sattler said...

I discovered Mary Lawson last December and ended up reading her second novel before I read Crow Lake. I enjoyed both of them and was fascinated with her description of a lifestyle that I can only barely imagine. I'm looking forward to whatever she has for us next.

I was surprised that she's lived in England for so long. In fact, she lives only about five miles from where I lived in Twickenham for three years and I used to walk to there to kill some time in a big shopping mall that reminded me of those in the was a sort of therapy for me when I was particularly missing my family in Texas.

John Mutford said...

While not being orphaned at 7 (I think that was the age), I can relate to the small town thing. But that in itself is impressive; having a reader from outport Newfoundland find similarities with rural farm life in Ontario is no small feat.

I wonder if writing about Canada was like therapy for her. Maybe her choice of Canada as a setting comes from missing family.

John Mutford said...

Stephanie's positive review is here.

John Mutford said...

Other reviews: Raidergirl, Gautami, Ramya, and Joy.