Crow Lake

by Mary Lawson

Knopf Canada | March 18, 2003 | Trade Paperback

4.3793 out of 5 rating. 29 Reviews
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Mary Lawson''s debut novel is a shimmering tale of love, death and redemption set in a rural northern community where time has stood still. Tragic, funny and unforgettable, this deceptively simple masterpiece about the perils of hero worship leapt to the top of the bestseller lists only days after being released in Canada and earned glowing reviews in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail, to name a few. It will be published in more than a dozen countries worldwide, including the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Italy and Bulgaria.

Luke, Matt, Kate and Bo Morrison are born in an Ontario farming community of only a few families, so isolated that "the road led only south." There is little work, marriage choices are few, and the winter cold seeps into the bones of all who dare to live there. In the Morrisons' hard-working, Presbyterian house, the Eleventh Commandment is "Thou Shalt Not Emote." But as descendants of a great-grandmother who "fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning," the Morrison children have some hope of getting off the land through the blessings of education. Luke, the eldest, is accepted at teachers college -- despite having struggle mightily through school -- but before he can enroll, the Morrison parents are killed in a collision with a logging truck. He gives up his place to stay home and raise his younger sisters -- seven-year-old Kate, and Bo, still a baby.

In this family bound together by loss, the closest relationship is that between Kate and her older brother Matt, who love to wander off to the ponds together and lie on the bank, noses to the water. Matt teaches his little sister to watch "damselflies performing their delicate iridescent dances," to understand how water beetles "carry down an air bubble with them when they submerge." The life in the pond is one that seems to go on forever, in contrast to the abbreviated lives of the Morrison parents. Matt becomes Kate's hero and her guide, as his passionate interest in the natural world sparks an equal passion in Kate.

Matt, a true scholar, is expected to fulfill the family dream by becoming the first Morrison to earn a university degree. But a dramatic event changes his course, and he ends up a farmer; so it is Kate who eventually earns the doctorate and university teaching position. She is never able to reconcile her success with what she considers the tragedy of Matt's failure, and she feels a terrible guilt over the sacrifices made for her. Now a successful biologist in her twenties, she nervously returns home with her partner, a microbiologist from an academic family, to celebrate Matt's son's birthday. Amid the clash of cultures, Kate takes us in and out of her troubled childhood memories. Accustomed to dissecting organisms under a microscope, she must now analyze her own emotional life. She is still in turmoil over the events of one fateful year when the tragedy of another local family spilled over into her own. There are things she cannot understand or forgive.

In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, Lawson ratchets up the tension, her narrative flowing with consummate control in ever-increasing circles, overturning one's expectations to the end. Compared by Publishers Weekly to Richard Ford for her lyrical, evocative writing, Lawson combines deeply drawn characters, beautiful writing and a powerful description of the land.

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: March 18, 2003

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676974805

ISBN - 13: 9780676974805

This beautifully written, intricately woven novel is an oft-told yet engrossing story about family, that at the same time, makes us question if we are enjoying and building our family relationships as well as we might as adults.

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– More About This Product –

Crow Lake

by Mary Lawson

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: March 18, 2003

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676974805

ISBN - 13: 9780676974805

Read from the Book

PROLOGUE My great-grandmother Morrison fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning, or so the story goes. And one Saturday evening she became so absorbed in her book that when she looked up, she found that it was half past midnight and she had spun for half an hour on the Sabbath day. Back then, that counted as a major sin. I ’ m not recounting that little bit of family lore just for the sake of it. I ’ ve come to the conclusion recently that Great-Grandmother and her book rest have a lot to answer for. She ’ d been dead for decades by the time the events occurred that devastated our family and put an end to our dreams, but that doesn ’ t mean she had no influence over the final outcome. What took place between Matt and me can ’ t be explained without reference to Great-Grandmother. It ’ s only fair that some of the blame should be laid at her door. There was a picture of her in my parents ’ room while I was growing up. I used to stand in front of it, as a very small child, daring myself to meet her eyes. She was small, tight-lipped, and straight, dressed in black with a white lace collar (scrubbed ruthlessly, no doubt, every single evening and ironed before dawn each day). She looked severe, disapproving, and entirely without humor. And well she might; she had fourteen children in thirteen years and five hundred acres of barren farmland on the Gaspé Peninsula. How she found time to spin,
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From the Publisher

Mary Lawson''s debut novel is a shimmering tale of love, death and redemption set in a rural northern community where time has stood still. Tragic, funny and unforgettable, this deceptively simple masterpiece about the perils of hero worship leapt to the top of the bestseller lists only days after being released in Canada and earned glowing reviews in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail, to name a few. It will be published in more than a dozen countries worldwide, including the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Italy and Bulgaria.

Luke, Matt, Kate and Bo Morrison are born in an Ontario farming community of only a few families, so isolated that "the road led only south." There is little work, marriage choices are few, and the winter cold seeps into the bones of all who dare to live there. In the Morrisons' hard-working, Presbyterian house, the Eleventh Commandment is "Thou Shalt Not Emote." But as descendants of a great-grandmother who "fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning," the Morrison children have some hope of getting off the land through the blessings of education. Luke, the eldest, is accepted at teachers college -- despite having struggle mightily through school -- but before he can enroll, the Morrison parents are killed in a collision with a logging truck. He gives up his place to stay home and raise his younger sisters -- seven-year-old Kate, and Bo, still a baby.

In this family bound together by loss, the closest relationship is that between Kate and her older brother Matt, who love to wander off to the ponds together and lie on the bank, noses to the water. Matt teaches his little sister to watch "damselflies performing their delicate iridescent dances," to understand how water beetles "carry down an air bubble with them when they submerge." The life in the pond is one that seems to go on forever, in contrast to the abbreviated lives of the Morrison parents. Matt becomes Kate's hero and her guide, as his passionate interest in the natural world sparks an equal passion in Kate.

Matt, a true scholar, is expected to fulfill the family dream by becoming the first Morrison to earn a university degree. But a dramatic event changes his course, and he ends up a farmer; so it is Kate who eventually earns the doctorate and university teaching position. She is never able to reconcile her success with what she considers the tragedy of Matt's failure, and she feels a terrible guilt over the sacrifices made for her. Now a successful biologist in her twenties, she nervously returns home with her partner, a microbiologist from an academic family, to celebrate Matt's son's birthday. Amid the clash of cultures, Kate takes us in and out of her troubled childhood memories. Accustomed to dissecting organisms under a microscope, she must now analyze her own emotional life. She is still in turmoil over the events of one fateful year when the tragedy of another local family spilled over into her own. There are things she cannot understand or forgive.

In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, Lawson ratchets up the tension, her narrative flowing with consummate control in ever-increasing circles, overturning one's expectations to the end. Compared by Publishers Weekly to Richard Ford for her lyrical, evocative writing, Lawson combines deeply drawn characters, beautiful writing and a powerful description of the land.

From the Jacket

"Crow Lake is a remarkable novel, utterly gripping and yet highly literate. I read it in a single sitting, then I read it again, just for pleasure. I await her next work with eagerness (and a little envy)."
- Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

"I didn't read Crow Lake so much as I fell in love with it. This is one beautiful book."
- David Macfarlane, author of Summer Gone

"A finely crafted debut ... conveys an astonishing intensity of emotion, almost Proustian in its sense of loss and regret."
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note." -- Daily Mail (London)

"A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake."
- The Globe and Mail

"The best [first novel for 2002] that I have read so far…compulsively readable."
- Sandra Martin, The Globe and Mail (Dec. 27, 2001)

"Crow Lake…is a spellbinding story…a marvelous story….The bitter land and climate of Northern Ontario are like characters in this story of four orphaned children struggling to stay together as a family….The language is subtle but beautiful. The reader is drawn into the lives of the characters…. The prospects for success are endless."
-W.P. Kinsella, First Novels

"Crow Lake mesmerizes. … Crow Lake may be one of the loveliest novels you almost ever read."
- The Telegram

"
Crow Lake [is] superb, elegant…. Lawson is a brilliant storyteller; she takes her time in laying the foundation of her tale and layering on the complexities. She's also an elegant stylist; her prose is lyrically thoughtful…. The depth, honesty and feeling throughout are superbly wrought. Crow Lake is a wondrous thing -- it's a new Canadian classic."
- The Hamilton Spectator

"The assurance with which Mary Lawson handles both reflection and violence makes her a writer to read and watch….. Peripheral portraits are skillfully drawn. Pot-banging Bo, with her minimal vocabulary of mostly shouted words, speaks to the heart without a scrap of sentimentality. The combative Cranes, unusual among fictional academics, are funny without being ridiculous and square off over the tablecloth with intelligence intact…. Most impressive are the nuanced and un-self-conscious zoological metaphors that thread through the text."
- The New York Times

"Lawson delivers a potent combination of powerful character writing and gorgeous description of the land. Her sense of pace and timing is impeccable throughout, and she uses dangerous winter weather brilliantly to increase the tension as the family battles to survive. This is a vibrant, resonant novel by a talented writer whose lyrical evocative writing invites comparisons to Rick Bass and Richard Ford."
- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note or a showy sentence."
- Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail (UK)

"Crow Lake: deep, clear and teeming with life. A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake...So have I. Within days, you'll see people reading Crow Lake in odd places as they take quick breaks from the business of their lives. You'll also hear people say, 'I stayed up all night reading this book by Mary Lawson.' Mary Lawson, Mary Lawson. Remember the name…. Kate Morrison's voice overturns convention and makes everything fresher, larger, livelier than it first appears…. She is very special. So is Crow Lake…. This is the real thing."
-Terry Rigelhof, The Globe and Mail

"Every detail in this beautifully written novel rings true, the characters so solid we almost feel their flesh. Bo must be one of the most vividly realized infants in recent literature. Lawson creates a community without ever giving in to the Leacockian impulse to poke fun at small-town ways, instead showing respect to lives shaped by hard work and starved for physical comfort. The adult Kate's alienation from Crow Lake is initially difficult to accept, for everything in Kate's life, including her career in science, reflects the values of her formative years on the farm. Soon, though, her crippling guilt becomes the mystery that draws the reader on."
- Maureen Garvie, Quill & Quire starred review

"Lawson's narrative flows effortlessly in ever-increasing circles, swirling impressions in the reader's mind until form takes shape and the reader is left to reflect on the whole. Crow Lake is a wonderful achievement that will ripple in and out the reader's consciousness long after the last page is turned."
- Amazon.co.uk

"Critics are raving about…Crow Lake, a tightly plotted page-turner about sibling love, murder, and invertebrate zoology in rural Ontario, set in the 1950s and '60s."
- Judy Stoffman, The Toronto Star

"Lawson achieves a breathless anticipatory quality in her surprisingly adept first novel, in which a child tells the story, but tells it very well indeed."
- Danise Hoover, Booklist

About the Author

Mary Lawson was born and brought up in a farming community in southwestern Ontario. A distant relative of L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables ), she moved to England in 1968, and now lives with her husband in Surrey. She returns to Canada every year. Asked on CBC’s This Morning what she misses most about Canada, she says without hesitation that it’s the rocks of the Canadian Shield. England has rocks, she says, but they are not smooth and rounded and “whale-like.” Lawson is a firm believer in the strength of the influences we receive as children, a theme explored in the book. Lawson’s father was a research chemist for an oil company in Sarnia, Ontario, and the family lived in Blackwell, which was then a small farming community -- though not nearly as remote as that of Crow Lake -- and spent summers at a cottage up north. She studied psychology at McGill University in Montreal in the mid-sixties, and says that Montreal was an eye-opening experience after growing up in Blackwell. “We had the radio, but we had no television, and relative to what kids know today … they are just so much more knowledgeable than we were.” She graduated in 1968 and went to England, finding work in a steel-industry research lab in London, which is where she met her husband, Richard. Published under the “New Face of Fiction” program at age 55, Lawson calls herself a “late starter,” though she began writing when her son
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From Our Editors

In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, Lawson ratchets up the tension with heartbreaking humor and consummate control.

Editorial Reviews

“ Crow Lake is a remarkable novel, utterly gripping and yet highly literate. I read it in a single sitting, then I read it again, just for pleasure. I await her next work with eagerness (and a little envy).” — Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat “I didn’t read Crow Lake so much as I fell in love with it. This is one beautiful book.” — David Macfarlane, author of Summer Gone "A finely crafted debut ... conveys an astonishing intensity of emotion, almost Proustian in its sense of loss and regret." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “Beautifully written, carefully balanced, Mary Lawson constructs a history of sacrifice, emotional isolation and family love without sounding a false note.” -- Daily Mail (London) “A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake .” — The Globe and Mail “The best [first novel for 2002] that I have read so far…compulsively readable.” — Sandra Martin, The Globe and Mail (Dec. 27, 2001) “ Crow Lake …is a spellbinding story…a marvelous story….The bitter land and climate of Northern Ontario are like characters in this story of four orphaned children struggling to stay together as a family….The language is subtle but beautiful. The reader is drawn into the lives of the characters…. The prospects for success are endless.” —W.P. Kinsella, First Novels “ Crow Lake mesmeri
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Bookclub Guide

1. Kate says that "understatement was the rule in our house. Emotions, even positive ones, were kept firmly under control." How would you say that this "rule" affected each member of the Morrison family? How did it influence their relationships with each other and with people outside their family? What are some examples?

2. For the first few weeks following the death of her parents, Kate believes that she was "protected from the reality by disbelief." How did she carry this defense mechanism with her throughout her childhood and into adulthood? What are some examples?

3. How do you imagine things would have turned out if the children had been separated, as Aunt Annie had arranged? How do you think it would have benefited and/or impeded their growth as individuals and as a family?

4. Guilt is an ongoing theme throughout the book. How did this feeling affect the children's relationships and the choices they made immediately following the death of their parents? How did it affect their adult lives? Who would you say was most stricken with this feeling?

5. Why do you suppose Kate and Matt were bonded together so strongly? What about Bo and Luke?

6. When you think of a conventional family, stereotypical images come to mind. How does each of the four Morrison children fit in that image? Which child took on which traditional family role? What are some examples?

7. Given the chance to attend university, what choices do you think Matt would have made? Do you think he would have returned to Crow Lake? Why or why not?

8. Matt sees problems clearly and is realistic about solving them, whereas Luke is content to wait for things to work themselves out. Given the situation they were in, what were the advantages and disadvantages of each frame of thinking?

9. Great-grandmother Morrison's love of learning set the standard against which Kate judged everyone around her. Do you think Great-grandmother Morrison would have approved of Kate's disappointment in Matt? Why?

10. The Crow Lake community opened its arms wide to the Morrison children after their parents were killed. How does this generosity conflict with the community's collective reaction to Laurie Pye's disappearance? Why is this?

11. Miss Vernon's stories about the history of Crow Lake suggest that some patterns can never be broken. How is this true and/or false for the Pyes and Morrisons?

12. What do the ponds symbolize in this book? What do they represent to Kate and Matt especially?

13. Was Matt doomed to let Kate down in some way? Do you think it's possible for any young man to live up to such heroic expectations? Why?

14. What do you imagine happens between Kate and Daniel after the book ends?

15. Do you think Kate's resentment and distaste toward Marie will lessen as she rebuilds her relationship with Matt?

16. What could Kate learn from Matt to make herself a better teacher? Do you think she will enjoy teaching more when she returns from Simon's birthday party?

17. We are meant to assume that Luke and Miss Carrington develop a romantic relationship at the end of the book. Do you think they are compatible? Why or why not? What are some examples?

18. Kate and Mrs. Stanovich are complete opposites when it comes to dealing with tragedy and hardship. What do you think each woman could learn from the other?

19. Daniel believes that Kate is incapable of empathy. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

20. What do you think would have become of Luke had his parents not been killed?

21. As a consequence of the events of her childhood, Kate is a rather judgmental, withdrawn young woman. Nevertheless, Daniel falls in love with her. What do you think he sees in her, under her protective shell?

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