Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen (St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, January 21, 2014, paperback January 6, 2015), 304 pp.
Kate Pheris is waking up after the worst year of her life, the year she lost her husband and almost lost herself while her young daughter Devin waited for life to begin again and her mother-in-law Cricket orchestrated their future like a puppeteer with an agenda stronger than love.
But older ties are stronger even though they might have seemed forever lost.
Kate and Devin serendipitously discover a fifteen-year- old postcard in the attic while getting ready to move to Cricket’s house where neither of them wants to be: Greetings from Lost Lake, Georgia: a Magical Experience. Sent by Kate’s great-great-aunt Eby after Kate’s best summer ever at the ramshackle cabins our of another era in South Georgia, the card stirs up old hopes and memories.
Kate’s never seen the card before. Her mother, who had a falling out with Eby that summer, hid it away along with its message, “You’re welcome to come back anytime you’d like.”
It’s too late, isn’t it? Lost Lake and Eby are probably long gone. Yet, Lost Lake really isn’t that far from Atlanta. What if Kate and Devin drive down there and look?
While Cricket organizes the future she wants with indomitable and merciless force, Lost Lake suggests possibilities with a gentle touch, one that pulls on the heartstrings of those who have come back for one last summer before Eby sells the place she can no longer afford to keep and flies away to see the world.
The book features a cast of memorable characters and–inasmuch as this novel is magical realism–a magical setting. Everyone who arrives to say goodbye to Eby and Lost Lake is looking for something, and they all have their secrets and their losses.
Like an oasis that’s almost visible for one moment and gone the next, the magic and the synchronicity of the setting are deftly handled by Allen (Garden Spells The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper), adding mystery and, perhaps, a sense of hope that a seemingly lost future is not altogether lost.
One cannot read Lost Lake without noting a certain predictability in the plot and the syrup of sentimentality it the developing themes and coming-out-of-hiding histories of the characters. One can say the same thing about It’s a Wonderful Life. Nonetheless, movie viewers return to It’s a Wonderful Life every year at Christmas just as the faithful, if not aging, guests return to Lost Lake every summer.
Lost Lake gives those guests what they’re looking for even though most of them are too stubborn to admit it. Readers may know, or think they know, how Kate’s and Devin’s summer at Lost Lake will end. They may be right. Even so, the book casts a spell that’s impossible to resist.