I have to be honest here before I get into my review of Kim Edwards’ novel The Lake of Dreams. I am one of the few people I know who didn’t enjoy or like all that much The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, so to be honest I went into LoD not really expecting to like it. Sadly, my expectations were met.
The Lake of Dreams tells the story of late 20-something Lucy Jarrett, who finds herself living in Japan with her boyfriend Yoshi. She returns home to the States after a minor accident involving her mother, and from there she discovers some papers hidden in a bedroom of her mother’s house. Lucy’s father died while she was a teenager and she has not been able to move on from his death, blaming herself for not being with him that night. The mysterious papers combine with her father’s family history to lead Lucy on a search to learn more about her family, all the way down to women who have been hidden from family and history.
Okay, so to be fair this book, from its jacket description, is totally the kind of book I would like. But once I got into it, there were so many things that I found annoying and wrong that I couldn’t even enjoy the plot of the story (which, in the hands of a lot of other authors, would have been fantastic). One of the things that I thought was nice initially was Edwards’ use of descriptive language. There were some beautiful parts to her writing, especially when she was describing stained glass windows. But far too often, she relied on telling instead of showing. I was a creative writing minor in college, and this bugs me when I read. Telling has its place, but frequently throughout the novel? Not its place. Overkill. I wish I had the book with me to give you specific examples, but it’s on my iPad and I am nowhere near my iPad.
Let’s talk about characters. There wasn’t a single character in this book, except for maybe one, that I liked. Lucy was really annoying and Edwards didn’t do a good job of really developing her character and justifying the curiosity and overbearing protectiveness she exhibits toward the family mystery. She goes from not knowing about this person and her story to over the top emotionally involved in just a few pages. Lucy’s brother Blake comes across as a jerk, and I like her mom and mom’s beau enough. Lucy’s uncle, who is intended to be the bad guy, is not likeable, and neither is her cousin Joey. The only people I truly like in this book are her father (who is dead) and her old boyfriend Keegan.
One of my biggest problems, those mentioned above aside, is how the plot developed. Lucy has a continual string of “Ah-ha!” moments where she remembers or fully realizes something fleeting that has been on the edge of her consciousness, and when that happens, it advances the story. I’m not saying this is a bad literary tool. I’m just saying that when it’s used constantly to propel a story forward, it gets old, not to mention an obvious desperate attempt to have a good novel. Also, the use of certain motifs, symbols, and themes also used to move and connect the story are so blatant that I had to roll my eyes many, many times. Haley’s Comet, for instance, or swimming in the lake/Lucy’s dreams about water/Lucy’s occupation as a hydrologist/the pictures sent to Lucy of people swimming in clear, clean water. Keys and locks, locks and keys. They are just pushed too hard on readers.
Overall, I think this novel tried too hard to be one of “those” novels. You know the kind: the ones that are just beautifully written, characters with whom readers fall in love, whose words will stay in your mind forever. It seemed to me as a reader that this is what Edwards wanted us to feel like at the end. But all of the little things add up, and in addition to what I mentioned before, the writing itself just tried too hard, especially when it come to describing things. So often it was done in sets of three: “I felt sad, lonely, angry.” “I was reminded when we used to sleep in this part of the house, when my father was alive, when Blake loved space, when the comet was still an important part of our story.” Over. Kill.