Book Review: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards

I celebrated the first day of winter by starting what I hoped to be the first of many books I read during the cold months here in Minnesota. Four days later, I had finished The Lake of Dreams and felt as though I had gone on a mini vacation to the Finger Lakes region in New York. I usually choose to read books that will “transport” me (at least mentally) during the winter months and this one is perfect for anyone looking for that winter escape in the form of reading.

The Lake of Dreams is written by Kim Edwards who is well-known for her first book, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. The book is a casual read that doesn’t much differ from a snowball rolling down a hill in that it gains speed and gathers more and more substance as it goes on. I read the first half of the book over the course of 3 days and then finished the second half in one day, staying up well beyond my bedtime and straining my dry eyes just to find out what happens.

Lucy is a successful young woman who has traveled the world for work and pleasure. The reader makes their own assumption as to if Lucy is “running” in order to not have to deal with the death of her father (which happened her senior year in high school) or if it truly is the lifestyle she wants to live. She does visit home and keeps contact with her family and while visiting during her most recent visit, she learns her brother along with extended family members are all planning to build high-rises on marshland that should be protected and preserved rather than drained. Add in a romantic twist— the rekindling of the relationship between her and her high school sweetheart and you’ve got a somewhat interesting plot. But what makes this book a delight to read, magical even, is the description of the Finger Lakes area and the description of the glass arts.

The old flame, Keegan, is a glass artist who works in blown glass but also does consulting work for stained glass. The descriptions of the stained glass works of art are so precise I could visualize them in my head. All of the places Lucy visits— Keegan’s studio, the old church, the museum. . . all possess works of art and Edwards does an amazing job of making you feel like you are standing right there with Lucy, staring up at these creations. Describing works of art isn’t easy, but Edwards does it well.

The description of the area is magical. The town is called The Lake of Dreams and it’s described as a quaint little tourist town stuck in time. Mostly I pictured Bayfield, Wisconsin, but if I remember correctly, The Lake of Dreams had a bit more development. There is nothing corporate in Bayfield. Part of the point of the book is that the people there in The Lake of Dreams have something truly unique and special. Some want to preserve what they have and some want to develop it, put in a Pizza Hut so that more families will come vacation there. It isn’t entirely clear what side of the fence Lucy is on. She is far from being an activist but she has her doubts about the development. I would have liked to have seen a stronger point of view come from Lucy or more vocalization on the matter and that was frustrating.

I did have a few “complaints” about some things but mostly they are minor things. First of all, the title of the book, the name of the town, “The Lake of Dreams”. It’s easy to associate the title of the book with a place, but it’s hard for me to believe that The Lake of Dreams could actually be the name of a town in real life. I have this problem with movies too. When something seems unbelievable to me, it throws me off for the duration. It’s hard for me to “believe” anything in the book or movie if I feel something is askew even though I know the work to be fiction from the start!

The only other thing I found annoying while reading the book was the heavy emphasis on technology, but then errors in how that technology is communicated. Lucy Jarrett is, I believe 28 years-old in the book. I don’t know any 28 year-olds that say they have “sent an email message”. The “message” part of that is known. We just say we “sent an email”. Lucy also says that her email mailbox was almost full from having pictures sent to her. I would think the Lucy Jarretts of the world would have heard about Gmail by now. Also, “e-mail” is usually not hyphenated by the younger, more tech-savvy crowd who know better and “”Web site” is one word without the capitalization of the “W”. These of course are minor annoyances but they do wreck the relationship the reader creates with the characters in the book. I believed Lucy was real, and then when she started talking about technology, I was convinced she was really a woman in her 50′s in disguise.

All in all, the book is an excellent winter read. A dazzling escape that brings art, travel, history and politics into the mind of the weary reader battling seasonal depression. I’m confident this would be a fabulous summer read as well, for anybody while on vacation in a place such as The Lake of Dreams or anybody wishing to be on vacation in a place such as The Lake of Dreams. And if you don’t read the book for the art or travel descriptions, read it at least for the extremely informational historical tidbits on feminism and women’s politics. The information is truly astonishing and you will be thankful for the new perspective if you were once ignorant to women’s history from a political standpoint. I would definitely read this book again, it’s definitely a treasure on my bookshelf.