I have mixed feelings about finishing Lost Lake. I loved the characters and the story. And Sarah Addison Allen writes a southern setting that makes me believe I can feel the humidity and smell sunscreen and watermelon. I’m sad to be done with it, because now I can’t expect a new book from her until at least 2015.
Lost Lake is a story about waking up and taking control of your life. Kate Pheris, was thrown into a complete tailspin when her husband was killed in an accident on his way home from work. When the book begins, Matt has been gone for a year, and Kate is suddenly realizing that she doesn’t recognize her life at all anymore. She’s basically been sleep-walking for a year, dealing with her grief and letting other people (mainly her overbearing mother-in-law) make all her decisions for her. But when she realizes what her passive attitude is costing her daughter, Devin, Kate decides it’s time to take her life back. On a whim, she and Devin drive to Lost Lake to see her long-estranged aunt Eby and enjoy a few days of summer vacation in the only spot where Kate ever felt truly happy as a child.
While this is arguably Kate’s story, for me, the other characters in the book stole the show. Aunt Eby’s story, sometimes told in flashbacks, was so beautiful that it made me want to go wander around Europe getting lost in cafés with Eby and her husband George. The prologue alone almost had me in tears. Selma and Buhladeen, two regular visitors to Lost Lake who have nothing in common on the surface, are a testament to how much we can grow to rely on people without ever realizing it. Devin wears fairy wings with a Wonder Woman t-shirt and believes she can see alligators in the lake. She is eccentric and bright and beautiful in that way that only little girls can be.
The most fascinating character to me was Lisette, a French woman who bonded so immediately and powerfully to Eby when they met in Paris that she followed Eby back home to Georgia when Eby’s European honeymoon was over. Lisette cannot speak, and she refused to go to the school for the deaf her parents enrolled her in, so she writes notes on the little notepad she keeps around her neck. Because of a terrible incident in her teenage years, Lisette understands the power that words can have, and she carefully destroys all of her notes after they’ve been read.
All these characters and their stories intersect at Lost Lake. I suppose you could make the argument that not a whole lot happens in the book. It’s just a small story about a few weeks in the lives of these characters, but to me, it still felt important. It reminded me a bit of the feeling I get after I’ve read a Maeve Binchy novel. I close the book feeling glad that I got to know a little bit about everybody in it, and wondering if they are all still milling around in there, laughing and eating and generally having an excellent time.
I think writing magical realism that feels authentic is an incredible talent, and Sarah has it. She weaves magic throughout the story, rather than building the story on top of it, and she never tries to explain the mechanics of it. The magic in the book is just there, no heavy-handed explanation necessary. This way, it doesn’t feel jarring or cause you to lose your place because you have to stop reading to say, “Wait – what just happened? How?” I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the impression that Sarah’s writing leaves on me.
I’m so glad Sarah is working on a sequel to Garden Spells. It gives me something to look forward to. I’m sure I’ll reread Lost Lake and her other books in the meantime.