Synopses & Reviews
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 damselfliesperforming 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 apowerful description of the land.
"Elegant, beautifully paced, and deeply resonant of the fears of children too young to have a vocabulary to express such feelings, this is a terrific debut." Library Journal
"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
"A finely crafted debut...conveys an astonishing intensity of emotion, almost Proustian in its sense of loss and regret." Kirkus Reviews (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....This is a vibrant, resonant novel by a talented writer whose lyrical, evocative writing invites comparisons to Rick Bass and Richard Ford." Publishers Weekly
"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
"Crow Lake is in its structure, its major characters, and its affect a quite traditional novel; and in its earnest resolution, it is perhaps a young one....But the assurance with which Mary Lawson handles both reflection and violence makes her a writer to read and to watch." Janet Burroway, The New York Times Book Review
is that rare find, a first novel so quietly assured, so emotionally pitch perfect, you know from the opening page that this is the real thing a literary experience in which to lose yourself, by an author of immense talent.
Here is a gorgeous, slow-burning story set in the rural badlands of northern Ontario, where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape. For the farming Pye family, life is a Greek tragedy where the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, and terrible events occur offstage.
Centerstage are the Morrisons, whose tragedy looks more immediate if less brutal, but is, in reality, insidious and divisive. Orphaned young, Kate Morrison was her older brother Matts protegee, her fascination for pond life fed by his passionate interest in the natural world. Now a zoologist, she can identify organisms under a microscope but seems blind to the state of her own emotional life. And she thinks shes outgrown her siblings Luke, Matt, and Bo who were once her entire world.
In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, of resentments harbored and driven underground, Lawson ratchets up the tension with heartbreaking humor and consummate control, continually overturning ones expectations right to the very end. Tragic, funny, unforgettable, Crow Lake is a quiet tour de force that will catapult Mary Lawson to the forefront of fiction writers today.
About the Author
Mary Lawson was born and brought up in a farming community in Ontario. After graduating from McGill University she went to England for a holiday and stayed on; she lives there still, with her husband and sons, though she returns to Canada every year.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Kate says that “understatement was the rule in our house. Emotions, even positive ones, were kept firmly under control.” How would you say that this “rule” affected each member of the Morrison family? How did it influence their relationships with each other and with people outside their family? What are some examples?
2. For the first few weeks following the death of her parents, Kate believes that she was “protected from the reality by disbelief.” How did she carry this defense mechanism with her throughout her childhood and into adulthood? What are some examples?
3. How do you imagine things would have turned out if the children had been separated, as Aunt Annie had arranged? How do you think it would have benefited and/or impeded their growth as individuals and as a family?
4. Guilt is an ongoing theme throughout the book. How did this feeling affect the childrens relationships and the choices they made immediately following the death of their parents? How did it affect their adult lives? Who would you say was most stricken with this feeling?
5. Why do you suppose Kate and Matt were bonded together so strongly? What about Bo and Luke?
6. When you think of a conventional family, stereotypical images come to mind. How does each of the four Morrison children fit in that image? Which child took on which traditional family role? What are some examples?
7. Given the chance to attend university, what choices do you think Matt would have made? Do you think he would have returned to Crow Lake? Why or why not?
8. Matt sees problems clearly and is realistic about solving them, whereas Luke is content to wait for things to work themselves out. Given the situation they were in, what were the advantages and disadvantages of each frame of thinking?
9. Great-grandmother Morrisons love of learning set the standard against which Kate judged everyone around her. Do you think Great-grandmother Morrison would have approved of Kates disappointment in Matt? Why?
10. The Crow Lake community opened its arms wide to the Morrison children after their parents were killed. How does this generosity conflict with the communitys collective reaction to Laurie Pyes disappearance? Why is this?
11. Miss Vernons stories about the history of Crow Lake suggest that some patterns can never be broken. How is this true and/or false for the Pyes and Morrisons?
12. What do the ponds symbolize in this book? What do they represent to Kate and Matt especially?
13. Was Matt doomed to let Kate down in some way? Do you think its possible for any young man to live up to such heroic expectations? Why?
14. What do you imagine happens between Kate and Daniel after the book ends?
15. Do you think Kates resentment and distaste toward Marie will lessen as she rebuilds her relationship with Matt?
16. What could Kate learn from Matt to make herself a better teacher? Do you think she will enjoy teaching more when she returns from Simons birthday party?
17. We are meant to assume that Luke and Miss Carrington develop a romantic relationship at the end of the book. Do you think they are compatible? Why or why not? What are some examples?
18. Kate and Mrs. Stanovich are complete opposites when it comes to dealing with tragedy and hardship. What do you think each woman could learn from the other?
19. Daniel believes that Kate is incapable of empathy. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
20. What do you think would have become of Luke had his parents not been killed?
21. As a consequence of the events of her childhood, Kate is a rather judgmental, withdrawn young woman. Nevertheless, Daniel falls in love with her. What do you think he sees in her, under her protective shell?