A homespun novel finds a small Wisconsin town torn between preservation and progress.
Folksy activism provides the impetus for Apps’ return to Ames County, where he's set five earlier novels in this series (Tamarack River Ghost, 2012, etc.). He's also published many nonfiction books about farming and rural life in Wisconsin, and the themes in those volumes invariably make their ways into his fiction as well. In this case, the small village of Link Lake finds itself caught between its past as a farming community and whatever prosperity the future might hold as a tourist destination. There's a battle for the soul of the village between two organizations headed by two strong-willed women. Marilyn Jones, who inherited the village’s only supper club when her parents died in a car crash, leads the Link Lake Economic Development Council, whose initiatives invariably meet resistance from the Link Lake Historical Society, headed by feisty octogenarian Emily Higgins. Marilyn fumes, “When are these people going to quit focusing on the past and begin thinking about the future?” Tensions come to a head when a sand mining company strikes an agreement with the village that will require the removal of a “sacred tree.” The controversy attracts the attention of a mysterious but widely read syndicated environmental columnist with the pen name Stony Field, whose writings attract protestors to the site. Too many coincidences and surprises strain the reader’s credulity (including the possibility that an environmental columnist with an unknown identity could wield such national influence), but a Fourth of July parade, an explosion and a potentially fatal storm threaten to tear the town apart—or perhaps heal its wounds.
The result is Lake Wobegon with more environmental activism and historical preservation and considerably less humor.