Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Long Shining Waters by Danielle Sosin
Last month my daughter emailed me to ask if I had read or heard about the book Long Shining Waters. She knows of my love for Lake Superior and thought I might want to check out this award winning title. I am so glad she made the recommendation. Sosin's novel covers the lives of three women, each carving out their lives on the most mesmerizing and dangerous of the great lakes. Told in alternating chapters, the three stories combine with a fourth mysterious voice to craft a picture of
Lake Superior as varied and unending as the waves that pound its shores.
Grey Rabbit, an Ojibwe wife and mother in 1622, finds she cannot escape the dreams that haunt her as her young family faces near starvation in the Wisconsin winter. The physical harshness of her subsistence, coupled with the eerie tone of her dreams, prepares readers for the equally bleak 1902 story of Berit and Gunner, Norwegian immigrants, who have settled on an isolated section of shore so that Gunner can fish. Despite their troubles, both women offer tales of strength and resilience that perhaps find its roots in the lake itself. Against that backdrop, Sison adds a third story, the contemporary road trip around the lake taken by Nora, a Superior, Wisconsin, bar owner who suddenly finds herself without a bar or a future.
I've read full length books based on the lives of those strongly independent Norwegians who settled Lake Superior's lonely shores during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and I believe the hardships and isolation they endured rank right up there with the lives of settlers to Alaska and the western mountains. Sison did an excellent job in recreating the same toughness mixed with fragility that I've read in historical accounts. And certainly, Grey Rabbit's tale opens the reader's eyes to the reality of living a Northern winter totally dependent on nature. Nora's modern day tale adds several quirkly elements that will affect different readers in different ways. I connected with the physical journey she took, recognizing spots along the UP shore that I've visited and other Canadian/Minnesotian shorelines that are still on my bucket list. Other readers may see themselves in the plight that leaves Nora without a business and without a future. Or maybe it's really a future with endless possibilities? Lastly, the fourth, unnamed narrator has a definite message and story for each of us, and just maybe, this is the voice that is most important.
The Milkweed National Fiction Award is given to one previously unpublished author each year, chosen from among the works published by Milkweed Publications, a publishing company known for its literary quality. Although I have not read other works they published in 2011, I can still confidently say that The Long Shining Waters is a deserving winner. Whether this title achieves national success or settles in as a regional standout, it has added another layer to the literature that explores the lore and mystique of our great lake.