Synopses & Reviews
A haunting, luminous debut novel set in a small New Hampshire town: the story of the crisscrossing of lives, within and without family, and of one woman, given up for adoption as a baby, searching for the truth about her life.
As an infant, Alice Thornton was discovered in Kettleborough, New Hampshire, in a boathouse by the lake; adopted by a young, childless couple; raised with no knowledge of the women who came before her: Eleonora, who brought her family to Bear Island, the nearly uninhabitable scrap of land in Kettleborough's lake; Signe, the maiden aunt who nearly drowned in the lake, ashamed of her heart; Sophie, the grandmother who turned a blind eye to her unwanted granddaughter. Alice grows up aching for an acceptance she can't quite imagine, trying to find it first with an older man, then with one who can't love her back, and finally in the love she feels for one she has never met. And all the while, she feels a mysterious pull to the lake. As Alice edges ever closer to her past, Lake People beautifully evokes the interweaving of family history and individual fate, and the intangible connections we feel to the places where we were born.
"Perhaps if the many characters and tragedies of this debut had been partitioned off into separate novels or stories, they would have had a better chance at sympathy or sustained interest. As it is, this novel drowns in pathos. Alice, adopted as an infant and haunted by her birth family and ancestors, tells her story, their stories, and the stories of the inhabitants of her small New England lake town, Kettleborough, N.H., from early settlers who go back several generations to more direct players in her melancholic tale. The plot is driven almost entirely by what comes to feel like a catalog of tragedies: suicides, car accidents, disappearances, a fire, characters oppressed and scorned for their sexual orientation or social status, domestic abuse, a miscarriage, statutory rape, killing. Rather than resonating with depth or greater meaning, however, the results is a book hobbled by tragedy, not helped by an endless foreboding and an often ponderous tone. Characters are forced into inhuman postures in the name of serious subjects. The minimalism of the prose, working against the melodrama, tries to wrestle the book from its accumulated weight. Agent: Eleanor Jackson, Markson Thoma. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A haunting, luminous debut novel set in a small New Hampshire town: story of crisscrossing lives and of one woman, given up for adoption as a baby, searching for the truth about her life.
As an infant, Alice Thornton was discovered in a boathouse by the lake; adopted by a young, childless couple; raised with no knowledge of the women who came before her: Eleonora, who brought her family to Bear Island, the nearly uninhabitable scrap of land in Kettleborough’s lake; Signe, the maiden aunt who nearly drowned in that lake, ashamed of her heart; Sophie, the grandmother who turned a blind eye to her unwanted granddaughter. Alice grows up aching for an acceptance she can’t quite imagine, trying to find it first with an older man, then with who can’t love her back, and finally in the love she feels for one she has never met. And all the while she feels a mysterious pull to the lake. As Alice edges ever closer to her past, Lake People beautifully evokes the interweaving of family history and individual fate, and the intangible connections we feel to the place where we were born.
About the Author
ABI MAXWELL holds an MFA from the University of Montana. She grew up in Tilton, New Hampshire, where she now lives with her husband. She works as assistant librarian at the Gilford Public Library.
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Abi Maxwell’s Lake People, the haunting debut novel about one woman’s journey to discover her family history and her own identity.
1. Many novels have been written about family and family history. The search for self-acceptance and self-knowledge is also a major theme in Western literature. In what ways does Lake People
offer a distinctive treatment of these subjects and themes? What is most fresh and surprising about the novel—about the story it tells and the way it tells it?
2. What is the effect of the way the narrative shifts time frames? Why might Abi Maxwell have chosen this structure rather than a more straightforwardly chronological narrative?
3. What role does the lake play in the novel? Does it exert some supernatural power over those who live near it, and over Eleonora’s family in particular? Or is the lake’s power merely a projection of unconscious fears and wishes? Or is there some other explanation for the gravitational pull it seems to exert?
4. Why do Alice’s grandparents give her up? How does this feeling of not being wanted affect Alice throughout the rest of her life?
5. What role does social class play in the novel?
6. What is the significance of Alice falling into the ocean at the very moment her foster mother sees a whale emerging from it? Why would her mother think that her infant disappearing just as the whale appeared added “some order to the mystery” (p. 72)?
7. How does the story of Devnet and the death of George Collins—which twelve-year-old Alice witnesses and then revisits twenty-four years later—relate to the rest of the novel?
8. In what ways are secrets important in the novel? Who keeps secrets and why? What is the effect of revealing or discovering the truth?
9. Why does Kenneth intercept Simon and Alice’s letters? Why does Rose burn them? Is it chance or fate that brings Alice and Simon together again?
10. Why does Alice make such inappropriate choices of lovers in Mike Shaw and Josh? What is she trying to get from them? In what ways does it feel right that she finds her way in the end, and after many obstacles, to Simon?
11. Near the end of the novel, Alice thinks: “Now, as I walk through this town, I wonder just how many people know my story, and how it is possible that in all these years, no one has ever thought to tell it to me” (p. 198). Why haven’t the townspeople told Alice what they know about her past? Why hasn’t Alice asked more directly? Is there something necessary in her discovering who she is in the way she does?
12. The final paragraphs of Lake People point to a mystical experience. Alice says: “I could believe that all of us, and the journey I had just taken, had never existed and would always exist” (p. 210). What does she mean by this? How can it be true that something had never existed and would always exist?
13. How are readers to understand Alice’s journey over the frozen lake to the “Witches” and her encounter with the bear-woman? She feels certain it really happened, but if so, it violates the laws of ordinary reality. How can this seeming paradox be resolved or accepted?
14. In many ways, Alice has been searching for home throughout the novel. Why does she come to feel that the lake is her home and to see herself as “a child of that water, and not the unwanted infant that I truly was” (p. 205)? How does knowing the true story of her life help Alice accept herself?