Friday, December 19, 2014

1958 Honor - Gone-Away Lake


Hrumph! I would not have thought this book would have been a Newbery contender. I found it tedious, shallow, and totally without a decent plot.

In a creative writing class I once took, I learned that there are several forms used within a piece. Exposition (The girl skipped along cheerfully over the iced-covered pond), Description (Her titian ringlets contrasted nicely against her red sunburnt shoulders, and the springy coils bounced in time with her merry cavorting.) Dialogue ("Oh my!" she said to her pet cricket, "It seems I can feel the ice shift under my little feet!") Action (Crack! Smack! Wham! sounded as the ice broke!) It felt to me as if I constantly shuffled through the pages of Gone-Away Lake wading through description after eccentric description, wondering if I might be finally stumbling upon a bit of interesting plot to tie it all together, but alas, it was not to be.

Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright, is basically a summer vacation story of 10 year old Portia, her little brother, Foster, and their older cousin Julian. Portia and Julian are out exploring through the woods and swamp and stumble upon a little abandoned neighborhood of summer houses that has been forgotten by everyone else. It was deserted after the lake receded into marsh long ago. But there are two elderly residents who continue to make a home there, relying on gardens, gathering, and aquiring things from the other rotting houses. It sounds a little creepy, but it's not. It's undendingly cheerful, eccentric, and full of buccolic charms as the two children sneak away every day to visit them.

There is one brief moment of scare when little Foster tries to follow them and gets stuck in the bog. But he is promptly rescued by the elderly gentleman resident, which leads to a general reveal about their presence. Thankfully, all the grownups instantly fall in love with the old man and woman when they bring the little boy back to his parents, and things generally improve for all concerned from this point on.

I can think of two non-Newbery books off-hand that were written along similar themes at about the same year (1957) that were more exciting, interesting, memorable, and re-readable than this one. (No Children No Pets, and The Ghost Boat.) Its weak plot could be forgiven if it were character driven, but alas, not much meaningful developement there either.

There was one chapter that really stood out to me, though I expect it was intended to just be one of the many stories of the past that was told to Portia and Julian, and that was The Summer Cats. Long ago, one of the more intimidating and obnoxious residents was discovered to have a custom of acquiring "summer cats." She would stop by a farmhouse on the way there, select a couple of kittens, enjoy them all summer, and then just before she went to her city home, she would take them by the vet to have them chloroformed.

How horrifying!

Although this book may appeal to some readers, I don't believe I would have especially enjoyed it when I was young, and today I was just anxious to finish it- no small task at 256 pages.

I bought this copy at Goodwill for probably a buck fifty.


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