October 2005

Beth Dugan

fiction

The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake by Steve Amick

I picked up Steve Amick’s debut novel The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake thinking it would be a Lake Woebegone rip off and not expecting much more. I didn’t like Lake Woebegone and I wasn’t expecting to like something trying to parody it. Thankfully, The Lake isn’t a celebration of small town America or anything as trite as that. It doesn’t tout our quirky differences or slyly point out the ways in which human foibles come to the surface in a place with no discernable diversity. It’s a well told story about a place and more importantly about the people that live there. Weneshkeen just happens to be a small, touristy Midwestern town that might faintly resemble a small, touristy Midwestern town that you might possibly know (think Geneva, IL, or St. Joe’s, MI).

The Lake follows several denizens of Weneshkeen during one summer season. One of the most compelling of these people is Roger Drinkwater, a Vietnam vet, ex-Navy Seal who coaches the girls’ high school swim team and is waging a one man war against the Jet Skis that are polluting Lake Meenigeesis on which he is one of the few “original” (read Indian) residents. Using weapons as simple as white face paint to scare the bejeezus out of the “idiot boys” who hot rod around the lake, rubber bands, and explosives in various forms, Roger exacts hilarious and vicariously satisfying revenge on the tourists, otherwise known as “fudgies” for their love of the local fudge the townies sell them every summer. Roger’s extra-curricular activities get him noticed by the Deputy Sheriff Janey Struska, who is fighting her own battle against her desire to move beyond the borders of Weneshkeen and to stick it to the old boy’s network that didn’t elect her Sheriff.

Another compelling and ultimately disturbing character is the retired reverend who has recently lost his beloved wife to cancer. He hires Kimmy, a high schooler, to tutor him on the Internet as he quietly loses control of his usually sedate and predictable life. He fixates on pornographic images on the Internet while he starves for basic human contact. He is overwhelmed quickly and while an ultimately tragic figure in the novel, his flaws and humanity are so lovingly portrayed by Amick, it is hard to feel anything but empathy for him.

Kimmy struggles with her relationship with her immature father with whom she is spending the summer. Kimmy’s teenage neighbor Mark enters into a dangerous and highly charged sexual relationship with the hottest and richest girl in town who is possibly also the craziest. All of the characters in the book with their separate motivations and desires fill Amick’s story in and make it something that isn’t about Americana or any great ideal of Midwestern-ness or community but rather about these people in this town. A highly enjoyable and often funny read, The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake is an excellent first novel and a good story to boot.

The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake by Steve Amick
Pantheon
ISBN: 0375423508
384 Pages