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:


Artie said...

I couldn't find any way to contact you except through a comment. I hope you don't mind. First of all I want to thank you for what you wrote about "Fall to Grace"; and God's love for the LGBT community.

Secondly, I was wondering if you might want to review my memoir of 9/11 (I worked across from the World Trade Center).

My Facebook Page would give you more information.

Thank you.


Best O' Books said...

Hi, what a wonderful review! Thanks for writing this-- I am not from that area, but I have always lived within driving distance of the coast, and I can relate. I will probably end up looking for this book to read, because I heard about it here. Rae