This is a poignant and clear-eyed portrayal of a family that suffers overwhelming personal tragedy when the Morrison parents are suddenly killed in an accident. They leave behind seven-year-old Kate, her younger sister, Bo, and two older brothers, Luke and Matt, who attempt to forge their own way without being separated and sent to relatives.
Their isolated world is Crow Lake, where the harsh indifference of nature is tempered by the necessity of accepting its boundaries, patiently awaiting the renewal of spring. Luke and Matt make sacrifices that change the course of all of their lives, especially the idealistic Kate's. Lawson's poignant novel is haunted with hushed regret, unacknowledged loss and the sense of something intangible slipping through your fingers that was meant to be saved, a thought, a memory, a barely audible refusal.
The fragile innocence of childhood is shattered in that one irrevocable moment for all four siblings, and like Humpty Dumpty, it can never be made whole again. Compromises are made and dreams delayed in the pursuit of the basic needs of this small family. But children often overcome unimaginable misfortune, and the Morrisons cling to each other, overcoming substantial odds to remain together in the family home. Kate chronicles their struggles with the immediacy of hard-won knowledge.
Kate, after all, becomes the achiever, with a career as a scientist, once her beloved brother and mentor's dream. Kate studies the creatures that live on the water-air boundary, who carry an air bubble with them whenever they submerge, thus supplying the necessary oxygen. As an adult, her problem is that she lives as one of these insects, but she refuses to release the air bubble when safely above the surface, in effect isolating herself from others, her fear of intimacy almost destroying her relationship with the man she loves. If, indeed, "the child is father to the man", Kate's resolution of conflict and ultimate resolution and ultimate commitment is the key to bridging the past and fully accepting the grace of the present.
Crow Lake is a welcome companion on a heartfelt journey, where fear and mistrust collapse under the weight of familial bonds, finally at peace with the vagaries of fate. Lawson's pure and arresting prose guides the reader through emotional minefields, with the promise of comfort, acceptance and unconditional forgiveness.