Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Darkened Down-home Humor

Weneshkeen, Michigan, a small town on a small lake that feeds into Lake Michigan, appears simple and quiet on the surface. But Steve Amick’s novel, The Lake, the River and the Other Lake, peels back that picture postcard of serenity and brings us a set of loosely connected stories that are often funny and always touching.

Most, although not all, of the stories base themselves within the conflict between the people who live in Weneshkeen all year and those who simply vacation there during the summer months (these latter people Amick terms “fudgies” because of the high quantities of fudge and other knick knacks they buy from the various shops in town).

The novel’s big star is Roger Drinkwater, an Ojibwe Native American who served in Vietnam and now coaches the high school swim team. Tired of the noisy jet skis that make his daily swim in the lake difficult and dangerous, Drinkwater enters a one man crusade to sabotage every jet ski in the town. Other stories of Weneshkeen include a farmer whose son marries one of the migrant workers and has to face his own feelings of racism, a teen fudgie who starts dating the summer beauty queen and finds she may be more trouble then she’s worth, and a business man who starts a rumor that David Letterman is vacationing in the town to help sell his idea of Sumac Lemonade.

Despite everything that happens, and a lot happens in this fast moving book, Amick’s narrative is driven by the strength of his well rounded, memorable, and very likable characters. The folksy, down-home style of Amick’s humor reminded me of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon books and radio broadcasts. But Amick moves beyond the puns with some darker turns here and there, showing an occasional influence of T.C. Boyle. Darkly funny and bitterly poignant, Amick’s book is a great read if you want something just this side of quirky.

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