This book is from the author of a brilliant book that I read several years ago — The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. It wasn’t just me who loved it — that book became a runaway hit and spent 122 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Kim Edwards hasn’t written a whole lot of other books, so when I did find another one by her, The Lake of Dreams, I picked it up immediately to read.
If I was hoping for an encore performance, for something as brilliant as The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, I was disappointed. The Lake of Dreams is definitely not as good, or even as successful, as her earlier book, which I remember being everywhere when it was published (in 2006). However, the writing quality is just as good, not at all pedestrian, and as it so often happens, perhaps my expectations from this book were way too high for it to live up to them.
The Lake of Dreams is the story of a young woman, Lucy, struggling to find her place in the world and never able to really come to terms with the death of her father in a freak boating accident when she was a teenager. If only she had accompanied him for a ride on the boat that night when he had asked her to join him, perhaps the accident wouldn’t have happened. She leaves the town they lived in – called “The Lake of Dreams” – soon after to go to college and thereafter becomes a nomad of sorts – traveling to different countries for projects as part of her job as a hydrologist. When the book opens, she is living in Japan with her boyfriend of Japanese descent and is temporarily out of a job, and she takes a trip home to The Lake of Dreams to visit her family – her mother and her brother. Once there, she is caught up in the familiar emotions brought on after the death of her father – restlessness, guilt, the feeling of being unmoored – until the chance discovery of a letter and a piece of fabric in her home – which dates back to several generations – leads her to a search for an ancestor who seems to have been expunged from the family history. Who is this Rose and what happened to her? And what about her daughter Iris? Why was she forced to leave her? And was Rose the woman modeled in the stained glass windows in the local church that were created by a famous artist? If so, what was the connection between them?
While Lucy is researching the mystery of Rose, Iris, and the stained glass windows, she is, at the same time, dealing with the attraction she still feels for her high school boyfriend, who is settled in The Lake of Dreams, and runs a successful artisanal glass factory. At the same time, she is still in love with her boyfriend in Japan. In addition to this inner conflict, family issues with her brother and her uncle come up, compounding her feelings of guilt about her father’s death.
Eventually, everything is resolved, and there is a surprise twist regarding the circumstances of her father’s death, reinforcing the fact that his accident was not her fault in any way and she did not need to blame herself for it. This was the only somewhat dramatic part of the book, which was otherwise not melodramatic in the least. While I appreciated this aspect of the book – the story was so believable – it did make it a little slow, plodding almost. A little drama could have spiced it up a bit, I think.
But I guess that is not the author’s style, which is subtle, almost understated. It worked beautifully for The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, and while I’m glad I read The Lake of Dreams, it reinforced the fact that great art owes a lot to serendipity, to a flash of inspiration. It cannot be manufactured at will, it cannot be commanded, which is why there is no guarantee of loving someone’s second book or movie or painting just because you have loved the first.
The Lake of Dreams
Author: Kim Edwards
Publication Date: January 2011
Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.