VACATIONLAND by Sarah Stonich


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Minnesota author Stonich (The Ice Chorus, 2005, etc.) draws a novel from 15 linked north-country stories.

Naledi Lodge on Little Hatchet Lake is a now-faded Minnesota summer resort, a place of "water in all its incarnations—stream, swamp, puddle, or lake." Czech immigrant Vaclav Machutova ran the resort in its heyday. His orphaned granddaughter, Meg, spent summers there and winters in Chicago boarding schools. Stonich’s lake-connected stories move through time from Meg’s childhood onward, each story/chapter linked to Naledi Lodge like spokes to a hub. The book opens with adult Meg, a prominent artist, sketching a portfolio of a severed human hand brought home by her treasured wolflike dog. Then an advertising executive remembers a dalliance, a Lolita-like seduction. Adult sisters confront a euthanasia pact made after their mother’s lingering death. A Balkan refugee, unable to penetrate the insular Scandinavian community, reconciles his isolation on the lake’s quiet waters. Meg’s citified gay cousin delivers Meg’s mother’s ashes and discovers a connection to family and place. One of the more affecting reoccurring characters is Ursa Olson, Vac’s contemporary sometime-lover and a woman who prefers the hardy simplicity imposed by the inhospitable land. Ursa, defiant and self-reliant as her children plot to shift her from her cabin, finds comfort in one of Vac’s lost journals. Readers also encounter a giant bull moose, deer silently drifting in a glade and empathetic characters—all rendered with compassionate insight and a gift for artful observation—including Polly, surrogate grandmother and science professor turned novelist; Alpo, trimming away at grief in topiary; one-dimensional Magda, who left Vac for a Third Reich functionary; Meg’s father, Tomas, plunging to his death with his pregnant wife as an airplane crashes, "We will die, yes, but it’ll be all right." 

Each chapter renders a story complete, and the stories together weave a deeply mined narrative of place and people, elegiac yet life-affirming.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-816687664
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2013


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