Geye plunges fearlessly into the frigid landscape of The Lighthouse Road, exploring the lives of two individuals: Thea Eide in the 1890s, and her son, Odd, in the early 1900s. A Norwegian immigrant of limited language skills, Thea embarks on a solitary existence in Minnesota with no family or friends, finding temporary work as a cook in a logging camp to survive a winter that sends fingers of ice through an already shivering body. Long days of labor are scarcely relieved by chilled nights in a dank hovel. A traumatic episode that ends with pregnancy further exacerbates Thea’s meager existence in Minnesota. Her is child delivered by local apothecary (and entrepreneur) Hosea Grimm and his assistant, Rebekah, the only true comfort provided this young woman.
Geye parallels Thea’s story with that of her son. Grimm and Rebekah play critical roles in both lives, an emotional complication that adds texture to the unfolding drama as a now-motherless young man makes his own way in the world. With a natural affinity for the sea and the craft of building boats, Odd Eide is at one with the landscape of his birth but less accomplished in navigating the more dangerous shoals of a relationship with the opposite sex. Of a strongly independent nature, Odd falls in love with an inappropriate woman. but is determined to be with her. Conventional ties and social expectations are irrelevant to an idealist most at home with the certitude of his convictions.
In this frozen wilderness, where passions thaw behind closed doors and the impossible seems possible, Thea’s son plans carefully for the future, unaware that the seeds of disappointment will flourish from within the charmed circle of his intentions, and not from the expected source. Like others before him who have built lives on a foundation of partial truths in order to move at all, the practical Odd moves forward as the lone parent of a young son who thrives in his father’s loving presence. The juxtaposition of emotional bonds—between mother and son, man and woman, father and son—define this author’s work. The coming together, shattering and reconfiguration of relationships continue on despite the self-inflicted wounds of individual choices.
With the same spirit that Thea accepts the coming of her child and welcomes the innocent baby into her life, her son embraces his boy, generously sharing his affection without reservation. Basic goodness is deeply entrenched in both these characters, a trait not always reflected in the actions of those around them. Yet they are wholly themselves, without apology. By the same token, place assumes the role of character in the novel, albeit an implacable one. This is treacherous territory for sentient beings, the landscape strewn with the wreckage of the human heart and its fragile expectations. In one second, the heart is arrested by the simple image of a father and son ice fishing. In the next, nature strikes, swallowing all in its path. Such is the ambivalence in Geye’s writing.