Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Music of Sacred Lakes by Laura Cowan

Peter Sanskevicz doesn’t belong anywhere. He doesn’t want the sixth-generation family farm his great great-grandfather unwittingly stole from its Odawa owners, and can’t continue his jobs serving “fudgies,” tourists in Northern Michigan who seem more at home than he is. He can’t seem to take charge of things or do anything but make a mess. Then, Peter accidentally kills a girl.

Seeing his life is at risk, his friend takes him to his uncle, a pipe carrier of the Odawa tribe, who tells him he must live by the shores of Lake Michigan until the lake speaks to him. Peter lives and loves and rages by the shores of the great lake, haunted by its rich beauty, by strange images and sounds that begin to pursue him through his waking and sleeping hours, and by the spirit of the dead girl, who seems to be trying to help him. One day, he finally finds an inner silence. And then, he hears what the lake has to say to him. A story about reconnecting with the source of your life and your joy, Music of Sacred Lakes gives voice to the spirit of the land and lakes that gave birth to us all.

Part of the Goodreads Description 

This is the latest in my series of reviews of books by members of the Magic Realism Facebook Group and it shows what an interesting bunch we are. 

The Goodreads description goes on to describe Laura as an American Fabulist and a writer of spiritually-oriented magical realism, literary fantasy, and visionary fiction.  I confess I am not much up on these sub-genres and American fabulism was new to me. Now despite a bit of online searching I am not much wiser, indeed the definitions of fabulism I found suggested that it was just another word for magic realism. Ah well, let's leave that there. I am sure someone out there would like to put me right.

The spiritual element in the book is well to the fore. The young man at the centre of the novel is lost spiritually and his journey of spiritual discovery is the subject of the story. There is a lot of frustrated anger on his part, as he hits out literally and verbally. He finds himself through listening to the lake, as the old pipe carrier instructed him. The other instructor in Peter's transformation is the dead girl who comes to him in dreams and tells hims that It's okay.... It's all lake. As if to emphasize this the girl's name is Marissa (meaning: of the sea). 

At about the same time as I was reading this book I was also reading Living With A Wild God: A Non-believer's Search for the Truth About Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich. In the latter book the author recounts her experience of the wild god  - the Other - manifesting itself through nature. Ehrenreich is an atheist but a mystical one. The Christian mysticism which Laura Cowan describes in this book is very similar. It requires a sublimation of the self in the whole, symbolized by the lake but actually meaning all of nature - it's all lake. It is interesting that Cowan feels it necessary to use the native American intermediary and his traditional beliefs to help Peter discover or rediscover the wild god. 

I was having an interesting conversation with a fellow writer the other day over a coffee. She said that she had seen a rise in the number of young authors writing magic realism. We agreed that one for reason for this is that in this agnostic, even atheist, world many people are looking for magic, for something unexplained and unpredictable. I argued that for many people the "realist" approach is two-dimensional and excludes some of the most important experiences in people's lives. Some theists would argue that magic realism is an inappropriate description for books featuring Christian or other religious beliefs, but I have no problem with it and I think Music of Sacred Lakes is a good example of why magic realism and Christian mysticism sit well together. 

In a way not much actually happens in the novel - the turmoil is almost entirely internal. There is the presence of two very different young women who in different ways are attracted to Peter and are attractive to him. However the writer does not make too much of this area of potential tension. Personally I would have liked to have seen more made of the relationships, if only in the way the two girls impact on Peter's awakening.

The writing is positively poetic at times, but also tends to be a bit repetitive. This is a book which you should allow to wash over you - rather like Peter's lake in fact - and you may well find yourself pondering the profound.

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