Wednesday, August 17, 2011

South of Superior - strong in local color and characters

If your mother had abandoned you in a soup kitchen at age three and your grandfather had refused to raise you, what kind of adult would you become? How would you react when years after your grandfather's death, a stranger asks if you'd be interested in relocating to the isolated village where he had made his home?  Would a deep hidden anger and yearning for answers prompt you to leave behind a sophisticated fianc├ę and the bustle of Chicago for a life as uncertain as the weather on the greatest of all lakes?  Author Airgood has created a town peopled with strong, but flawed characters, each one adding to Madeline's unfolding understanding of her heritage and her future.  Ellen Airgood's small town has outlived the grandeur of the mining and logging days, just as the real small towns have that dot the UP's shoreline.  You won't find the opulence of earlier times, but you'll find that "sisu" (Finnish for courage) still abounds in the residents and perhaps even in the old buildings that line the old streets.

This book will offer much for book clubs to discuss, and as someone for whom Lake Superior has an almost mystical pull, South of Superior has demanded that I make yet one more trip to its shores. After checking Ellen Airgood's website, I found authentic photos that inspired Ellen's places and people plus great audio interviews with the author.  Although I know some reviewers have felt that her plot isn't direct enough and perhaps she tries to do too much in one book, I still strongly recommend this book simply because the characters and the setting are intertwined so much.  Her fictional town of McAllaster has a star role in this book and it will have travelers imagining the stories behind every small town they drive through.  Romantics and those who believe in serendipity will also want to read the New York Times piece Ellen wrote about how she met her husband and ended up living in Grand Marais near the UP's Painted Rock Lakeshore.

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