Saturday, July 30, 2011

Once Upon a River

By Bonnie Jo Campbell
New York, W.W. Norton, 2011
348 pages     Fiction

It is intriguing that Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell is showing up on lists of summer reading books, such as the reading list in Newsweek Magazine, because it is anything but a beach bag, throw-away book. It is intense, thought-provoking, maddening, and (in the words of the New York Times reviewer) an “excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom.”

Margo Crane is a teenager living on the banks of the Stark River in Michigan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Stark flows into the Kalamazoo River which flows into Lake Michigan. The Kalamazoo River is very real, but the Stark is the creation of the author. Margo is one of the most interesting characters that I have encountered in the eighteen months that I have been blogging. She is a wild young woman, “raised by wolves,” as one of the characters in the book notes. A sharpshooter, fisherman, and an expert at finding, skinning, tanning, and cooking wildlife, Margo is forced (perhaps she really desires) to live off the land and the river.

The reader follows Margo’s adventures and misadventures on the river over the course of two or three years, but this is not an adventure story; it is more elemental and symbolic than that. In many ways, Margo is the river. We get an early glimpse of that: “When Margo swam, she swallowed minnows alive; she felt the Stark River move inside her.” She cannot bear to be apart from the river because it is always there, the one constant in her life. Abandoned by her mother and orphaned by a murdered father, Margo is used and abused by the men she encounters, but she also uses them for shelter and security. At one point she finds her wayward mother, but she is always compelled to return to the river. One of the revealing lines in the book explains her relationship to people and the river: “She pushed thoughts of her mother into the quietest place within herself, until she was inside the sound of leaves rustling and the wind-sound of the moving surface of the river.” Also: “her body had absorbed the habit of sadness, so that sadness flowed all through her and became a natural part of her movements.”

At one point Margo says, “I’ve been trying to figure out how to live,” and that really sums up the intent of the author. Throughout the many disastrous events that confront her, she remains pure in her goal to be at one with the river and true to her goal to be independent and free. She realizes that she “had let herself become a person who was no longer connected to other people. She comforted herself with knowing that she did not carry with her a rage like Billy’s or anger like her father’s. Either would have weighed her down more than her loaded pack.”

The books of Bonnie Jo Campbell came to me on the suggestion of a book club member to read her short story collection, American Salvage, which I then read and reviewed in January 2010. The character of Margo grew out of a couple of her stories in that book. That book was short-listed for the National Book Award in 2009. Her characters in those stories are similar to the characters that appear in Once Upon a River—the lower-middle class white working people of Southwest Michigan. Now that I know who Bonnie Jo Campbell is, I see her at every book event I attend in Kalamazoo.

A friend and I read the book at the same time and spent an hour walking on a path alongside the river. Although Patricia liked the book, she felt the ending was “just too wrapped up with pretty ribbons.” I didn’t feel that way. I really hoped to see what was going to happen next. The reviewer in the Los Angeles Times agreed: “She must learn to tame some of that wildness out of her and live in the company of people without being used by them.” My friend observed that she envisioned a young Jody Foster as she read about Margo, certainly for her fierceness and intensity.

I do have to remind readers that Once Upon a River is not a regional book; it has universal themes and universal characters. Most of us know people like the characters who encounter Margo, although I can affirm that very few of us have ever met Margo—one of the most original characters to emerge in recent fiction.

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s website:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives

By Mina Samuels
Berkeley, Seal Press, 2011
277 pages Non-fiction

The Shortlist

Mina Samuels is a triathlete and a practitioner of many other sports, including mountain climbing and cross-country skiing. Her book, Run Like A Girl is an affirmation of the value of sports in the lives of women—in all the aspects of their lives but particularly in their empowerment. She says that in order to run like a girl, we also need to “run like a stereotypical boy—to seize opportunity, to challenge ourselves, to test ourselves, to jump in with both feet, to believe in our ability—all the things that boys have taken for granted for so long, but that have traditionally come harder in our fairer sex.”

Samuels has consulted women athletes about all the aspects of the athletic woman’s life, including endurance, stamina, body image, motherhood, relationships, etc. She quotes their responses and intersperses those interviews with examples from her own life and experience. One attractive feature are short highlighted quotes and statements that focus the reader’s attention on the topic at hand.

An important topic she discusses is body image and she says, “Our sports should be our friends, and like our friends, they are a form of spiritual and physical nourishment, one that empowers us to see our beauty, inside and out, no matter whether we fit some made-up ideal.”  The most appropriate chapter for me was the final chapter about being athletic in later life.

This is a timely, well-written book, and I can recommend it to athletes as well as women who are more casual about their activities. I received this book from the publicist.

Mina Samuel’s website:

The Shortlist

Too many books on my shelf! I have been sent many books from authors, publicists, and publishers. I drool when I look at my shelf, but I am having trouble reading them all. So, what I have decided to do is to add a feature called The Shortlist. On this list, I will post short paragraphs about books that look very appealing and interesting, but they will be books that I am not going to read all the way through. I will also post a recommended readership.   

Friday, July 22, 2011

When Religion Becomes Lethal

 by Charles Kimball
San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2011
192 pages     Religious

When Religion Becomes Lethal by Dr. Charles Kimball takes a very confusing issue and in 190 pages makes it clear and understandable. It is a remarkable achievement. He is a professor of religion, an expert in Islam and the Middle East, and an ordained Baptist minister.
Kimball asserts in the first chapter that “few of us have come to terms with the world of the 21st century, a world where ‘other’ religions are not simply ‘out there’; all religions are everywhere.” My husband and I are experiencing this in our own home. Currently in our small basement apartment, we have a graduate student from Saudi Arabia; our previous tenant was from Egypt. Both are Muslim; both are moderate in their religious views. In fact, our newest renter is very secular. Is he going to participate in Ramadan next month? He’s not sure at this point. The book couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for us. The only problem is that our Saudi renter has only had two weeks of English thus far; substantive discussion will have to wait.

The genius of When Religion Becomes Lethal is that Kimball explains thousands of years of religious history and politics of each of the Abrahamic religions in terms that lay people can understand. By the midpoint of the book, the reader has a foundational knowledge that helps when Kimball moves into a discussion of fundamentalism in each religion and why that particular religious style can become lethal when it interacts with politics.

He quotes a researcher who has documented “how little most Americans know about the most rudimentary teachings and practices in the world’s major religions.” The researcher goes on to divulge how little “most self-identified Christians know about basic components of their own religion. “ As a matter of fact, self-described atheists know more about the Bible than did “Bible-believing” Christians.  

If you don’t understand the most basic aspects of your own religion, how can you possibly understand the nuances? This lack of knowledge makes adherents vulnerable to the ravings of the fringe preachers, mullahs, and rabbis. Kimball discusses the fallacy of fundamentalism in the book’s most important chapter. He clarifies the problems with Jewish Fundamentalists, “Cocksure” Christians and Militant Muslims. The final chapter suggests while religion and politics are always going to be interconnected, knowledgeable and caring people can help governments bridge the gap between belief and reason.

One of the things that has confused me has been the insistence of fundamentalist Christians on the sovereignty of Israel. It had not made sense to me until I realized that John Hagee and other TV preachers are preaching that the Rapture will happen on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Therefore, we (meaning the United States) will need to be in control of Jerusalem so that when the Rapture happens, the faithful will be able to ascend to heaven. My guess is that the Rapture will not be including any of the Jews or Muslims who actually live in Jerusalem.

The copious number of notes and references at the end of the book might indicate a difficult-to-read scholarly work. While When Religion Becomes Lethal is scholarly, it is very readable and understandable to the lay person. The book speaks volumes about Kimball’s years of study and relationship-building in the Middle East. And its message it too important to ignore. In an interview, Kimball says: “It’s been made painfully clear that even small numbers of religious zealots or extremists claiming inspiration from their religion can wreak havoc on a regional or even global scale. In the second decade of the 21st century, the stakes are far too high for us to avoid or underestimate the volatile mix of religion and politics.”

A reviewer on Amazon sums it up nicely:  “What separates Kimball from the often-heard sensationalists and fear-mongers who dominate the radio and television airwaves is his insistence throughout the book that the world's three great monotheistic religions contain within them and share in common convictions, perspectives, and centuries of practice living together that are fertile ground for hope and for action instead of despair, immobilization, and counterproductive responses to the challenges of the next decade and beyond. Explosive? Yes. Lethal? Yes. Hopeless? No.”

Here is an interesting interview with Dr. Kimball on WGN, Chicago.,0,333549.mp3fil
 An excellent review in the faculty newsletter of The University of Oklahoma:
Dr. Charles Kimball is the author of a companion book When Religion becomes Evil. Both are available from Jossey-Bass. I received my copy of When Religion becomes Lethal from the publisher, and I will be donating it to my church library. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Orphan Sister

By Gwendolen Gross
New York, Gallery Books, 2011
283 pages     Fiction
Each of us feels inferior in some way or other. We can blame it on family position, family dynamics, genetics, or any number of other reasons. Clementine, in the book The Orphan Sister by Gwendolen Gross, feels inferior to her twin sisters. She is a triplet but is the product of two eggs—the twins in one and she in another. She is a fraternal rather than an identical triplet. Rather than feeling the independence that could come from being fraternal rather than identical, she feels lost and out of touch—no matter what anyone in the family does to try to include her. She is constantly seeking affirmation.

Clementine is the narrator of The Orphan Sister. She is an extremely self-absorbed, needy woman—almost to the point of being unlikeable. She accepts the love of her family and flings it back in their faces. She rejects her family’s support even as she accepts it. She is nearly 30-years-old and still searching for herself; she allows the grief from the death of a boyfriend six or eight years in the past to keep her from loving Eli, the man who loves her unconditionally. She is unable to move forward.

At one point, one of her sisters says: “Clem, I’ve always been jealous, you know, because you get to be special, you get to be just you and not one of the pair.” Although this might have served as a revelation for Clementine, she is very slow to learn that she is valuable.

There are family secrets in every family and in Clementine’s family there is a big one. Their father, who is absent about half the time, has another family—a wife and daughter. The girls know nothing of this other family until they are about thirty and the twins are both doctors and expecting their first babies.   They feel angry and betrayed, and their anger fuels much of the plot. Indeed, the revelation changes the family dynamics in very dramatic ways, and all the main characters are in flux.

As a protagonist, Clementine is undeserving of all the attention that we have to pay her. I didn’t like her and couldn’t relate to her. I also felt that the big drama over the other family, while interesting, was predictable. It is a relief when we arrive at some closure; the father introduces the daughter from his other family; the friend, Eli, becomes the lover; and Clementine arrives at some peace. She says, “And that was the end of the wallowing—if not the end of sorrow.” And by that point, I just didn’t care.

I did have a great conversation with my granddaughters (10-year-old twins) about the nature of twin-hood. What they liked; what they didn’t like. I was surprised to hear that they were mature enough to realize that the best thing about being twins was that they always had someone to play with, to talk to, and to fight with. I asked them if they were intuitive about each other, and they said that they could read each other’s faces enough to know what the other was thinking. I asked them if one got jealous of the other, and they indicated that yes, indeed they did. It was enlightening to hear them talk.

I am not sure that I can recommend this book to my readers. I can agree with the Kirkus reviewer who says: “At its best, the novel delves into the sister relationships, but the triplet hook only goes so far to mitigate the annoying entitlement of the characters and the heavy-handed if familiar plot.

I felt that Julia Glass handled the complexities of sister relationships better in I See You Everywhere than Gross did in The Orphan Sister. There was none of the whining that I found so annoying in The Orphan Sister. You can find my review of I See You Everywhere here: Interestingly enough, the protagonist in I See You Everywhere is also named Clementine.

I read The Orphan Sister at the behest of the publicist.
The book’s website:
Gwendolen Gross’s website:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

True When Whispered: Hearing God's Voice in a Noisy World

by Paul L. Escamilla
Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2010
132 Pages     Spiritual

One batch of grandchildren were laughing and splashing in the pool, and another batch were playing a noisy game of “Kings in the Corner” at the picnic table. I was at another picnic table trying to help the Saudi graduate student who lives in our basement apartment with his English homework. He saw True When Whispered by Paul L. Escamilla sitting on the table. “What this?” Aziz asked in his best English (which, believe me, is his best English after two weeks in the US). I replied, “I am reading this book,” in my plainest English (which, believe me, was getting plainer with each passing moment). Aziz gazed at the cover trying to decipher this new code. “What whisper?” he asked next. I whispered the title. He asked again, “What whisper?” Once more I whispered the words. Finally, he got out his trusty Arabic translation device on his I-Phone and punched in the word whisper. “Ah,” he said with a smile on his face. “Whisper” he whispered.

Paul Escamilla is a poet in the guise of a pastor and theologian. I had read Longing for Enough in a Culture of More earlier this year and was pleased when the author sent me his newest book to read also.  True When Whispered lived up to my expectation. It is a beautifully written, profoundly meaningful look at the mysterious relationship between God and Man.

Escamilla utilizes a quote from Soren Kierkegaard for his title and the theme of the book: “Some things are true when whispered, but not when shouted.” Escamilla acknowledges: “In a noisy world, we stand to lose the one thing most essential for clear thinking; that is, the simple ability to hear ourselves thinking.” He develops this theme in three sections and several short chapters—The Practice of Prayer, Habits of the Heart, and Whispering in the World.

I particularly appreciated the section on Prayer. Escamilla had some beautiful thoughts on the presence of the Holy Spirit in us as God sighs through us, causing us to come to an “understanding that we are understood.” I have often wished that I were more contemplative, more of a listener to the whispers of God in my life. I appreciated very much Escamilla’s encouraging voice that God is sighing within me, whispering even when I think I am not listening.

Here are some of the things that I particularly like about True When Whispered and Escamilla’s writing:
&;·         It is beautifully written and very literary and poetic. It fills your mind with beautiful passages to relish, savor and memorize. I copied down this prayer which I found particularly meaningful. “May every step I take today, including this very prayer, be its own small leap of faith.”
&;·         It is filled with amazing illustrations. One was particularly graphic. He tells about Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, Falling Waters, which was built right over a waterfall. Wright used a cantilever to support the house. Escamilla speaks of the daring in which Wright stepped out into the unknown when he created that house and equates it with the stepping out in faith that we do when we listen and follow the whispers of God. Every time we step out in faith, we are stepping into the cantilevered arms of God.
&;·       It has great humor. He speaks of the concept of following our passions and how fickle we are as we trend from passion to passion. I laughed when he wrote: “Meetings of the ‘My-Heart-Is-No-Longer-In-It’ support group are helpful for those who participate, but attendance tends to be spotty.”

Similar in style to Longing for Enough in a Culture of More, True When Whispered is intended for a small group study. There is a study guide at the end of the book. I think that Escamilla’s books will engender great discussion, thoughtful reading, and intimate sharing. I underlined many ideas, phrases, and meaningful thoughts. As I listened for God’s whispers among the words, I longed to share those whispers with others who had read those same words.  

Here is a review from another pastor:

Here is my review for Longing for Enough in a Culture of More by Escamilla:

Friday, July 8, 2011


by Katie Lee
New York, Gallery Books, 2011
221 pages     Fiction

Groundswell by Katie Lee is a sentimental novel about a young woman finding love, losing it, and finding it again. It is also a novel about having it all and then finding out that what you have isn’t what you want. The plot is simple. Emma Guthrie is a young production assistant on a movie set when she catches the eye of a famous movie star, Garrett Walker. Several years into a very glamorous and public marriage to Garrett, she finds him cheating on her with her best friend, Lily. When the pressure of the paparazzi gets to be too much, she escapes to Mexico where she finds solace in surfing and a hunk of a surfing instructor named Ben. Is this what she wants?

One redeeming factor for Emma is that she has a career as a screenwriter with a blockbuster summer movie hit. One of the taglines of the book tries to stress this fact:  "how losing everything you thought you wanted can be the first step to finding what you need." She has parlayed her love story with Garrett into the first movie hit, and then she creates a second movie hit from the divorce, the surfing, and Ben. She is following the mandate, “Write what you know.”

Groundswell is set among the glamour of celebrity New York. It has the requisite best friend (the betrayer), the older friend who knows everything about everything, the friend from home who understands her, and the gay designer friend. It is fun to read about shopping, and jewelry, and beautiful expensive clothes and shoes. We are glad for Emma that she has a supportive older woman friend that can help her navigate the stresses of celebrity life and celebrity divorce. We are grateful for her assistant, Grace, who seems to genuinely care about her and her well-being. And we love the idea of Ben making love to Emma on a surf board and in his beach shack, a far cry from the glamour of her New York life. In the end, however, we stuff the book back into our beach bag, sigh, and then move on the next summer read.

Katie Lee is a beautiful woman, the young ex-wife of Billie Joel, the author of two cookbooks and the host of television cooking shows. Is she a novelist? I am not sure. I know for sure that she is following the same mandate she has given Emma, “Write what you know.” The jacket of Groundswell, her new novel, should give the reader the idea that this book is not very original, “Eat, surf, love,” it says. I believe that I have already read a book with a similar title that I really loved. The quote from another author on the cover says, “Groundswell is the must-have accessory for this summer’s beach bag!” Truer words were never spoken. I chuckled when I read the last sentence from the Kirkus book review, “Beach readers may find sand gnats more entertaining.”

Groundswell has garnered quite a bit of publicity, i.e. reviews and interviews in the mass media. It is a bit sad to me that the power of celebrity can contribute to the success of a novel, while well-written books can languish and fade away. I recently read an article about the difference between talented musicians and corporate-created musicians—dare we say Billy Joel or Elton John as opposed to one of the Jonas Brothers. I guess I felt the same way about Katie Lee as a novelist. Last week I read The Long Shining Waters by a very talented writer, Danielle Sosin. Katie Lee is not in the same class at all.

All that having been said, Groundswell was quick, fun, and engrossing while it lasted. I kept looking up and down our beach for Ben, the surfer. All I saw were children playing in the sand and splashing in the waves. Oops…I’m supposed to be watching them!

Katie Lee’s website:
I received this book from the publisher as part of a blog tour.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where's My Wand: One Boy's Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting

By Eric Poole
New York, Berkley Books, 2010
292 pages   Memoir

Where’s My Wand? is a coming of age memoir that is very true, very poignant, and very hopeful, while at the same time very funny. Eric Poole grew up in St. Louis in the 1970s, and the book begins in 1969 when Eric is 8, his older sister, Val, is 12, and their parents are on the verge of splitting up. In order to try to control a family life spinning out of control, Eric dons an old chenille bedspread and pretends to be Eudora from his favorite TV show, Bewitched. When his parents don’t separate, Eric connects the chenille bedspread to the kind of magic Eudora makes, and he thinks that it is this magic that has controlled the events. Thereafter whenever things go wrong, out comes the bedspread, and more magic happens.

Later in his childhood he begins to connect this wishing with prayer and the magic with God. Ah, he thinks, God is indeed calling the shots for his family. Of course, everything doesn’t always go Eric’s way leading to some questioning of divine intervention and indeed, the very existence of a supreme being.

The stories, while very funny, all ring true. Even though the family is slightly dysfunctional, they are close-knit, church-going, and supportive of each other. Mother, who Eric described as “bag lady Macbeth” is driven obsessively to provide a “perfect” home for her family, to the point of raking the shag carpeting and declaring the living room off-limits. Father understands that this obsessive need Mother has for cleanliness and perfection is the result of her own less-than-perfect childhood, and while he is supportive, he has his own moments of rebellion. The children seem oblivious to these dynamics, because they are so involved in their own life dramas.

For Eric, the drama is the daily bullying that comes from being both smart and effeminate. He finds a champion and defender in Stacey, a scrappy girl who was born with no arms. Later, he gains prestige as a good trumpet player, and slowly but surely, he finds strength in himself and an understanding that we each are capable of controlling our own destiny by drawing from our own strength. With that understanding, the chenille bedspread gets donated, and Eric thrives on his own magic. He says, “I was, I realized, beginning to discover a new kind of magic, one that came from within. I still believed that God and I were a team, but the magic had to begin with me.”

My favorite story in Where's My Wand? concerns a church friend named Billy who comes for an overnight. Eric finds himself attracted to Billy in ways he can’t understand. But having just seen a movie at church on the evils of homosexuality, Eric thinks that maybe Billy is gay, and it is up to him to save Billy from this unfortunate fate. At the same time you are laughing at the ridiculousness of the story, you are relating to the anxiety that Eric must be experiencing as a Baptist boy in 1970s St. Louis realizing that he is gay.

Many of Poole’s stories are very funny. Yet all the stories have aspects of hopefulness that are often lacking in coming-of-age memoirs. This is not a child of drug-addicted, alcoholic, crazy parents left to overcome horrendous odds. This book is certainly not Running with Scissors or The Glass Castle. It is more like the stories of David Sedaris, without the sarcasm. The humor has a sincerity to it that pleases. The reviewer in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer put it succinctly: “less observational and more transformational.”

I just read a posting on Eric Poole’s blog for the “It Gets Better Project.” Among the tips he gives for gay youth trying to get through the hardest time of their lives, is to find “your posse.” He says, “I was a total band nerd. And while playing the trumpet didn’t do that much for my popularity in school as a whole, it gave me a place to be myself.” I can say that as a parent helping my children navigate the ugly waters of middle and high school, I wanted desperately for my children to find a fit. Each found their niche; but for all of them, band played a big part in helping them get through middle school.

I liked Eric as a child in Where’s My Wand? and having watched a YouTube video of him reading from his book, I think I would like him as an adult.

I received this book from the publicist, and I can highly recommend it. One of my favorite bloggers, The Book Lady, mentions that the genre of coming of age memoirs is getting a little tedious, but at the same time she says, “This is a coming-of-age memoir about more than the author’s quirks and his family’s dysfunctions. The shift in focus onto personal development and away from budding sexuality gives Where’s My Wand? added depth and makes it feel fresh and new in a genre that is quickly becoming stale, and Poole presents his life lessons—which, if not handled well, could come off as trite or saccharine—with sensitivity and insight.”
Eric Poole’s website:

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Long Shining Water

By Danielle Sosin
Minneapolis, Milkweed Editions, 2011
274 pages     Fiction

I grew up along the shore of Lake Superior in the harbor town of Duluth. When I read that Danielle Sosin, a Duluthian, had written a novel about Lake Superior, I had to read it. The Long-Shining Waters is a unique and satisfying read. It is a remarkable tribute to the majesty and the mystery of the world’s largest inland lake, as well as a tribute to the resilient people who live, and have lived, along its shores.

The alternating narrative concerns three women during three years of Lake Superior history. Grey Rabbit, an Ojibwe woman in 1622, Berit a Norwegian immigrant and fisherman’s wife in 1902, and Nora, a Superior WI, bar owner in 2000. All three women are involved in heartbreaking situations—Nora has lost her bar in a fire; Berit has lost her husband to the lake, and Grey Rabbit is lost in disturbing dreams. Their stories would be ordinary except that they take place on or near the lake.  The lake is influential in the lives of each of the women, and the lake is a determinant in the actions they take.

What Sosin evokes so brilliantly in The Long Shining Waters is the sense of the power of the lake. When you live by Lake Superior, you are aware of that power every day. The lake determines everything: the mood of the day, what you wear, how you will proceed. For the women in the novel, as it is for all who choose to live on its shores, the lake is an integral part of who they are. Sosin writes: "The waves like wolves leap over each other, toss sea foam from their open mouths. They hit the rocks and fall back again, only to rise howling and leaping, hitting and falling back again, until one after another they paw over the rocks, escape from the churning water, pads icing up in the snow, yellow eyes and patches of grey fur blowing." This is a beautifully written book; I became immersed in the words, and in the images.

In an interview, Sosin said of her decision to write a book with Lake Superior as the backdrop: "The premise that I ended up working with was that, the idea that Lake Superior is holding all of its history, literally as in the stuff that is down there, which there's a lot of. But more importantly in a watery subconscious way, so that everything that has happened on or around the lake is held in the waters, which affect the people who live on its shores."

The reviewer in the Minneapolis Star Tribune spoke of the lake in her review. "And always, in the background, is the lake, its waves light and lapping or whooshing and pounding. Sometimes the water's music soothes, sometimes it unsettles, but always it is present, a stern border to their known worlds, provider of danger, beauty and a powerful sense of geographical belonging. It "blazes blindingly through the trees" when Nora takes a walk along a South Shore gravel road. It "mirrors the sky, except for dark, skittering patches where it's grazed by a zigzag breeze" as bereaved Berit watches the horizon for a boat. It is the "Great Spirit" before which Grey Rabbit stands humbled, looking up from a cooling wade one hot summer's day to see a canoe gliding in with a strange pale-faced man in the bow.”

I first totally realized the power of the lake when I was away in college. A terrible storm came up and three teenaged brothers were washed away as they foolishly tried to brave the winds on the causeway. They were friends of my sister, and the devastating effect of the tragedy on the community was never forgotten. I never took the lake for granted again.

There is a spot in Wisconsin on US 53 where I stop every time I drive to Duluth. It is at the crest of a hill. When you arrive at that spot (and the weather is just right), all the coastline for many, many miles comes into view. I catch my breath; I’m almost home.

Here is an interview with Sosin on Minnesota Public Radio: