One of the most popular tropes in literature is the person who’s healed by nature. Perhaps it’s due to our country once being a nation of farmers, but there’s something romantic about the idea of burrowing into the land, be it the woods, the beach, the mountains, or a farm, working with one’s hands, finding one’s soul and healing one’s heart.
Of course, sometimes those bucolic settings can hide nightmares.
In Holly Robinson’s Haven Lake, 16-year-old Dylan Katz is running away from home – from memories of his dead mother, from the expectations of his surgeon father, and from a very angry lacrosse player who wants to make Dylan pay for hooking up with his girlfriend. Caught in a thunderstorm as he attempts to hitchhike from Massachusetts to Seattle, Dylan decides to call his soon-to-be stepmother’s estranged mother, Hannah, who runs a sheep farm called Haven Lake. But as it turns out, Dylan is not the only character who’s running away from something.
The story is told from three points of view – Dylan’s, Hannah’s, and Hannah’s daughter Sydney. Sydney had all but grown up at Haven Lake, which in the 70s was a hippie commune filled with draft dodgers. As a teenager, she left to live with her grandparents after her boyfriend drowned and her father, a troubled Vietnam vet, shot himself. With Hannah unable to take care of her, Sydney felt abandoned, and their relationship had been troubled ever since. Now a psychologist, Sydney is preparing to marry Dylan’s father Gary – but her love for him may be based more on a need for security than passion.
Although Dylan, Hannah and Sydney are each separate and distinct characters, they are all haunted by events in their pasts and how those events affect their present. Robinson does a terrific job distinguishing among the three in her narrative. This is a very internal book, with the main characters spending a lot of time in their heads, but each one felt unique. At the same time, the scene work is very clear, allowing the reader to see beyond the characters’ own impressions. As such, I was torn between wanting Sydney to realize she was marrying Gary for the wrong reasons, and wanting her to stay with him because of the positive influence she and Hannah provided to Dylan.
As the book progresses, the events surrounding Sydney’s father’s suicide come into question, and Sydney starts to investigate what really happened the night her boyfriend drowned. This subplot added a welcome dash of mystery and a firm connection between past and present.
However, there were some subplots that were more of a distraction. Haven Lake runs a little long, and would have benefited from the removal of a few characters. Ironically, there is one character who should have had a much stronger presence throughout the novel when all is said and done.
But these shortcomings are small, and did not take away from my enjoyment of the novel. With three well-rounded main characters, a compelling plot mixing past and present, and a rich rural setting, Haven Lake is a respite not just for Hannah, but for readers as well.
Thanks to Over the River Public Relations for the book in exchange for an honest review.
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