How A Woman Becomes A Lake by Marjorie CelonaHow A Woman Becomes A Lake by Marjorie Celona

How A Woman Becomes A Lake

byMarjorie Celona

Paperback | March 3, 2020

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From the Giller-nominated author of Y comes a suspenseful novel about the dark corners of a small town

It's New Year's Day and the residents of a small fishing town are ready to start their lives anew. Leo takes his two young sons out to the lake to write resolutions on paper boats. That same frigid morning, Vera sets out for a walk with her dog along the lake, leaving her husband in bed with a hangover.

But she never returns. She places a call to the police saying she's found a boy in the woods, but the call is cut short by a muffled cry. Did one of Leo's sons see Vera? What are they hiding from the police? And why are they so scared of their own father?

In the months ahead, Vera's absence sets off a chain of reverberating events in Whale Bay. Her apathetic husband succumbs to grief. Leo heads south and remarries. And the cop investigating the case falls for Leo's ex-wife but finds himself slipping further away from the truth.

Told from shifting perspectives, How a Woman Becomes a Lake is about childhood, familial bonds, new beginnings, and costly mistakes. A literary novel with the pull and pace of a thriller, told in taut illuminating prose, it asks, what do you do when the people who are supposed to love you the most fail?
MARJORIE CELONA's debut novel, Y, won France's Grand Prix Littéraire de l'Héroïne and was nominated for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Marjorie's work has appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, The Sunday Times, and...
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Title:How A Woman Becomes A LakeFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:272 pages, 9 × 6.12 × 0.69 inShipping dimensions:9 × 6.12 × 0.69 inPublished:March 3, 2020Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0735235821

ISBN - 13:9780735235823

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From the Author

From the Giller-nominated author of Y comes a suspenseful novel about the dark corners of a small townIt's New Year's Day and the residents of a small fishing town are ready to start their lives anew. Leo takes his two young sons out to the lake to write resolutions on paper boats. That same frigid morning, Vera sets out for a walk with her dog along the lake, leaving her husband in bed with a hangover. But she never returns. She places a call to the police saying she's found a boy in the woods, but the call is cut short by a muffled cry. Did one of Leo's sons see Vera? What are they hiding from the police? And why are they so scared of their own father?In the months ahead, Vera's absence sets off a chain of reverberating events in Whale Bay. Her apathetic husband succumbs to grief. Leo heads south and remarries. And the cop investigating the case falls for Leo's ex-wife but finds himself slipping further away from the truth.Told from shifting perspectives, How a Woman Becomes a Lake is about childhood, familial bonds, new beginnings, and costly mistakes. A literary novel with the pull and pace of a thriller, told in taut illuminating prose, it asks, what do you do when the people who are supposed to love you the most fail?

Bookclub Guide

Your first novel, Y, turned on a mother-daughter relationship. Your second, How a Woman Becomes a Lake, is partly about a father and his two sons. Were you conscious of this link when you were writing? Are parent-child relationships something you’re particularly interested in as a novelist?   I’ll never forget reading Mona Simpson’s Anywhere But Here for the first time—about a mother who drags her daughter out to LA to become a child star.  That’s the book that made me want to become a writer.  It starts with two words: “We fought.”  I think it’s the greatest first line.  Which is to say that nothing interests me more than parent/child relationships in fiction.  Some people write about infidelity, about disaster, about illness, about war—I’m interested in the battlefields and tenderness of the family home.   I didn’t think of Y while writing How a Woman Becomes a Lake—the two seem utterly different.  But, yes, Leo and his sons are the heartbeat of this novel.  It begins on New Year’s Day in 1986, when Leo takes them out to a frozen lake to make resolutions for the coming year—and it goes horribly wrong.  What happens reverberates until 2020.  We see how their relationship morphs over time, and how each boy deals with what happened that day. I’m particularly interested in how the parent/child relationship changes over the years.  I’m thinking of Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels—how everything in Patrick’s life stems from his father’s abuse—and what a staggering portrait of evolving identity and inheritance, from childhood to fatherhood, those five books have given us.       The novel explores different aspects of masculinity, from violence and power to fatherhood. So much around gender and gender roles is being challenged at the moment. Do you see your novel as part of these wider conversations?   I hope so—I mean, all of my work is in conversation with gender in some way.  The protagonist of Y is genderqueer, although I didn’t know that term when I wrote the book.  But now that I do, I’ve happily donned it.  My gender identity is fluid, amorphous.  My work reflects this.  Sometimes, I write as a man; other times, a woman; other times, neither.   I knew I wanted to write about violence—I felt ready to explore it—and how so much of violence is men doing violence unto women and children, when what they really desire is to hurt the men who have hurt them—so often their own fathers.  In Y, I wanted to explore different kinds of familial love, but in this book I was interested in how violence affects a family, and just how much violence is misdirected violence, rarely about the victim.  Several awful things happened while I was writing this book—Sandy Hook, for instance.  It completely broke me, but I knew I couldn’t write about anything like that.  I wanted to explore a quieter event than a mass shooting or an act of terrorism.  I wanted to explore a tragedy that could happen to anyone—a childhood mistake—and its ensuing effects.  I knew it was going to be a mystery, where a woman goes missing in a small town, and how everyone is affected somehow, but I also wanted it to be an investigation of the effects of violence on human consciousness through the long arc of time.  And very much an indictment of violence, and of aggression and toxic masculinity.    I admired that you take seriously many different kinds of love (not just romantic love) in this novel: love for a partner, a child, a parent, a sibling, a place, a friend, a dog… Was this something that was important to you?   The book has a lot of darkness, but you have to show the other sides of life, too.  I had two dogs and five cats when I was a child, which sounds ridiculous, but it was such a big part of my life—all that fur and howling.  Snuggling, then a sudden swipe of a paw.  I can’t imagine life without animals.  That pure joy you feel when you come home.  I have that now with my daughter, too.  All else melts away.  As a realist, I have to get these things right, too, not just the sad stuff.      Both of your novels are set in the Pacific Northwest and you write wonderfully about place – both in the sense of describing the natural world and the dynamics of specific communities. How crucial is setting and place to you as a novelist?   With Y, I was preserving the 80s and 90s of Victoria, British Columbia, right down to the street names.  With this novel, I wanted more freedom, particularly because it has non-realist elements.  So I made up two cities—Whale Bay, which is a hybrid of two existing coastal towns, one in America and one in Canada—and San Garcia, which is a hybrid of LA and San Francisco.  Setting tends to really rear its head when I’m writing from the perspective of a child, which I do often—they notice things.  Their surroundings affect them.   I’m not sure setting is crucial to me as a writer, but the ocean is.  I can’t imagine writing a novel in which the ocean isn’t there in the background, doing its ocean thing.   There’s a stretch of highway just north of Florence, Oregon, where you round a bend and the entire Pacific Ocean is just suddenly upon you.  And it looks like you’re going to go careening into it.  It never gets any less sensational.  My whole heart opens.      How a Woman Becomes a Lake is told from multiple perspectives. Why did you make this decision? What were the challenges and also the pleasures in having multiple perspectives?   I wanted to do something different from Y— the polyphonic novel, in third person.  Y has a kind of brash I’m-going-to-tell-you-the-story-of-my-life-and-you’re-going-to-listen voice, whereas How a Woman Becomes a Lake is told from the perspective of seven different characters, and is less concerned with voice than with the pleasure of weaving several storylines over a period of thirty-five years.  Ideally, at no time is the reader aware of the narrator, but of course the narrator is there, quietly narrating.  With first person, it’s a more theatrical experience: you don the mask of a character and off you go.    In How a Woman Becomes a Lake, the multiple perspectives allowed me to play with suspense—where is the woman and why has she gone missing?—while also threading other plotlines, other pleasures to fall into.  I found this novel much harder to write—I couldn’t rely on the seductive nature of the first person, or the readerly delight of falling in love with a main character.  I had to really wrestle with the great beasts of plot and structure.  But there is artfulness to be found within plot—that’s what surprised me while writing this book.  As a grad student, I thought plot was for people who wrote about elves.     You became a parent in between writing Y and How a Woman Becomes a Lake. Did that change how you wrote about parents, children and families?   I have a deeper understanding of the needs of young children now, and thus a desire to protect them.  (Particularly from ridiculous parenting advice.)  Writing, like humor, can be a sort of societal corrective: look at what we’re doing wrong.  The first thing I wrote after my daughter was born was a short story, “Counterblast,” which attempted to—in a humorous way—dismantle some of the nonsense parents are told.      A fellow writer read a draft of How a Woman Becomes a Lake while I was pregnant, and told me to write any scenes of violence or ugliness done unto children before I gave birth, because I wouldn’t be able to afterward.  She was largely right.  There are some things I can’t bear now.  If anything, becoming a parent clarified some of the novel’s aboutness for me: that the novel is about many things, but it’s also a plea not to harm your children.  To love them deeply.  To listen to them.  To not leave them behind.     How a Woman Becomes a Lake is partly about what happens when you fail those you love, what happens when you make mistakes, and the possibility of redemption. Is it possible for you to say why those themes interested you?   It’s interesting to me that Jesse and Dmitri’s parents fail them, while believing that they are doing the right thing.  The novel doesn’t answer the question of whether the boys are okay in the end—whether they come through.  As for redemption, their father attaches himself to a guru-like figure in the hopes that he can do in the spiritual world what he couldn’t in the physical world: atone for his sins.    I’m much more sensitive to the ways children are failed now that I’m a parent.  I’m interested in why some of us come through trauma and tragedy, and others don’t.  The arc between who we start out as and who we become.  My novels are my activism—a quiet form, but it’s the only way I know how to make a mark on the world.      The novel begins with an arresting mystery: a woman goes missing on a snowy New Year’s Day while walking her dog. How did you decide how and where to start? Was this always the beginning of the novel?   The book revolved around the boys and their father for a long time.  But then one of the boys stumbled upon the woman in the snowy woods, and I became interested in her character, and in the ways I could push the book to be even darker and weirder than what it already was.  And then she more or less took over the book.  She gave the novel its structure, its wildness and weirdness, its narrative pull.     Once I knew I was writing a mystery, order of information became important—who knows what and when, not just the reader but also the characters. The question of the missing woman isn’t the narrative question of the novel, if that makes sense, but it’s the thing that gets the book going.  If I’ve done my job right, the true mystery of the novel is a more complicated question about humanity, one that lingers in the reader’s mind for a long time.      Who are some of the writers that you love and/or have influenced you?   When I first got started, it was Alice Munro.  Now it’s Edward P. Jones.  There’s this thing he does—the way he connects the third-person narrator to the character. In a single sentence, we’ll hear a character’s innermost thoughts—then the narrator will rise up like a god and look down upon them.  Like St. Aubyn, Jones is a universe-builder.    I read Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows recently and felt like I’d never again read a book so funny about so much pain.  That book made me fall in love with first person again.    I love many other writers—Elisa Albert, Ayana Mathis, Alasdair Gray, Donna Tartt, Rita Dove.  These days, I’m reading Sigrid Nunez, Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen Myles, Jesmyn Ward, and Han Kang.  Han Kang’s The Vegetarian might be the best thing I’ve read in a decade.  I think about it all the time.  It’s a novel but also a work of art.  I grew up in an art gallery, so art influences my work almost as much as other writing.  When I write, I think of Emily Carr, of Yayoi Kasuma, of Marina Abramovic, of Liz Magor, of Robert Mapplethorpe, of the Hudson River painters, of Laurie Anderson, among others.  They’re among the pages of this novel, too.