Crow Lake is that rare find, a first novel so quietly assured, so compelling, and with an emotional charge so perfectly controlled, that you sense at once that this is the real thing - a literary experience to relish, a book to lose yourself in, and a name to watch.
Here is a gorgeous, slowburning story of families growing up and tearing each other apart in rural Northern Ontario, where tragedy and hardship are mirrored in the landscape. Centre stage are the Morrisons whose tragedy is insidious and divisive. Orphaned young, Kate Morrison was her older brother Matt's protegee, her curious fascination for pond-life fed by his passionate interest in the natural world. Now a zoologist, she can identify organisms under a microscope, but seems blind to the tragedy of her own emotional life. She thinks she's outgrown her family, who were once her entire world - but she can't seem to outgrow her childhood or lighten the weight of their mutual past.
Four children living in northern Ontario struggle to stay together after their parents die in an auto accident in Lawson's fascinating debut, a compelling and lovely study of sibling rivalry and family dynamics in which the land literally becomes a character. Kate Morrison narrates the tale in flashback mode, starting with the fatal car accident that leaves seven-year-old Kate; her toddler sister, Bo; 19-year-old Luke; and 17-year-old Matt to fend for themselves. At first they are divided up among relatives, but the plan changes when Luke gives up his teaching college scholarship to get a job and try to keep them together. The fractured family struggles mightily against the grinding rural poverty of Crow Lake, and the brothers conduct a fierce battle of wills to control their fate, until they both finally land jobs and the family gets some assistance from a neighbor. Unfortunately, that assistance can't overcome the deranged rage of a neighboring farmer, Cyrus Pye, and when Matt becomes involved with Pye's daughter, Maria, a tragic incident robs the brilliant young man of a chance to pursue a career as a naturalist. Kate goes on to become a zoologist at a Toronto college and marry a fellow academic, but her frustration with her brother's fate renders her unable to return to Crow Lake to visit him until the pivotal climax. 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.