The Secrets of Lake Road
Karen Katchur
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Buy *The Secrets of Lake Road* by Karen Katchuronline

The Secrets of Lake Road
Karen Katchur
Thomas Dunne
320 pages
August 2015
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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The lake is an annual vacation spot for generations of families, summers in the Poconos where children form lasting friendships and adults escape responsibilities, complete with boating, fishing, a bandstand for live music and the scary stories passed from one child to another. Twelve-year-old Caroline has come with her brother and parents to her grandmother’s cabin, like they do every summer. Anxious to see her friends, Caroline only turns away from Sara Starr for a minute--long enough to bear the burden of guilt. Little Sara is fascinated by the water, drawn to its edge though not yet taught to swim. Suddenly, everyone is caught up in the horror and the need to recover Sara’s body when she fails to surface.

For Caroline’s mother, Jo, it’s like yesterday, the summer when she was sixteen and her boyfriend, Billy, drowned in the lake, only part of his body resurfacing. Billy’s death has shadowed Jo’s life with Kevin and her children, Caroline and sixteen-year-old Johnny, sixteen. She’s been at odds with her mother for years, never making peace with the impulses of her sixteen-year-old self or the guilt she feels over Billy’s drowning: “No one touched the bottom of the lake and lived.” As the search for Sara Starr goes on, the girl’s mother, Patricia, is in an agony of waiting, Jo caught between past and present, unable to bear the secret she carries. Married to Kevin, who was once Billy’s best friend, Jo loves her husband but lives as well with Billy’s ghost.

While Caroline struggles with her part in Sara’s accident, Jo relives the details of that other drowning. Her son, Johnny, is now the handsome boy all the girls want to be with, Caroline grown more and more confused by an awkward relationship with a distracted mother. For Kevin, the summer is a painful reminder of the friend he lost. With the discovery of some bones while searching for Sara’s body--Billy’s bones--it seems time for the truth to surface as well. Everyone is unsettled by recent events at Jo’s mother’s cabin, none able to verbalize their discomfort, only Johnny oblivious to the rising tension.

Alternating the perspectives of Caroline and Jo, the author compares Caroline’s guilt and confusion with Jo’s complex reactions to the memories of that summer long ago. Though thirty-two, Jo often acts like her impulsive adolescent self. In fact, Katchur seems more comfortable describing Caroline’s world and friendships, the attempts to locate Sara’s remains. Too often Katchur resorts to euphemisms like “his hunger for her” or Kevin’s sexual tension “down there,” both simplistic and indicative of a discomfort with the language of mature, realistic writing. (With Billy’s death unresolved, a large part of the novel is spent reliving a passionate teenage romance, albeit one with tragic results.) Though the plot has promise, the first tragedy, a mystery awakened by a second drowning, finds both character and writer mired in the emotional morass of adolescence. Eschewing a child’s perspective might remove this obstacle, pushing the novel from women’s fiction to true adult fare.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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