The description on Amazon says that this is the story of the heroine’s magical, life-changing week on the shores of Lake Winnebago where she meets a fishing guide, launching her on an emotional journey she never could have predicted or foreseen. That last is true—none of us can claim to predict or foresee the future with any accuracy and it would certainly come as a surprise if a fishing guide and Lake Winnebago figured into it at all.
With that in mind, the first three chapters contained in the sample flash back to the events leading up to that magical week. And that magical week just might not have ended well, since the Prologue contains a sentence which begins with “A man I deeply loved once…” and ends with a fishing platitude which seems like the kind of thing a fishing guide might say.
The Prologue is made up of two platitudes in all. It begins with the heroine’s mother saying “Kelly, love from the mind is nothing more than a pleasurable arrangement, whereas love from the heart lasts forever.” Well, this certainly puts Shakespeare in his place–he said “True love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.” But what did he know about anything?
The second platitude, which presumably comes from the fishing guide, is “…a fish lunges after an artificial lure solely on instinct. He sees it, wants it, and zappo, he’s hooked.” Kelly thinks love is a lot like that: “You see someone you want, the chemistry is there, and zappo, you’re hooked.” The moral of this is obvious—stay away from love. The other person is using an artificial lure which your hormones can’t resist and then, zappo, you’re hooked. And like the fish you will soon be eaten. Not a happy thought, is it? Of course, it depends on just what kind of eating happens, I suppose. So maybe there can a happy ending. Or maybe I just have a dirty mind. Don’t answer that.
After the insightful prologue, Chapter One finds Kelly at work. She gets a phone call from her mother, who blurts out that Kelly’s father has passed away. The world fades away and Kelly notes to herself that this was not the kind of revelation she had grown accustomed to. Really bad news had been pretty minor in her life. But then, how often do fathers drop dead in anyone’s life? So how can you become accustomed to such revelations?
Kelly has a flashback of driving to work that morning. A flashback within a flashback, because the Prologue was a flashback. In it we learn about her graduation from a prestigious East Coast university with two degrees from which she launched a whirlwind of successes. She called these successes “connecting the dots.” She became the chief editor of a glamour magazine. One dot. She built up the magazine’s circulation. Second dot. In the midst of the flashback’s recounting her connect-the-dot career Kelly suddenly thinks her own smile has always reminded her of her mother’s. This is a non-seqeitur and certainly not surprising in any case. But it is a chance to describe Kelly—she looks good, by the way—and ends by noting that she’s just a younger version, which is good because this is not a science fiction novel.
We get a few more dots which are her future life investments. Not bad for a shy kid from a Dallas suburb who’d been cut from her junior high school soccer team because she couldn’t run fast enough. Something which has evidently scarred her for life. This filly is running now!
Kelly gets to work, but before she gets her mother’s call we learn a few more things about her.
One, she has a fiancée, Thomas, who really, really, really loves her. We know because he says it three times during his own phone call. And he wants to be sure she arrived safely—he asks this a couple of times during this sample and it becomes a bit creepy, as if he has to know where she is at all times.
Two, Kelly sees Thomas as another dot in her life investments. He’s rich. She finds his nick-name for her corny, and their relationship had culminated into a four carat engagement ring thanks only to his tenacious persistence. By which we know that she doesn’t love him, really. She reminds herself every day that she couldn’t have been more blessed. She has this happy thought: “Like Mother constantly cajoled me, when you net a fish that big, you don’t dillydally around and debate how to prepare it, you simply toss it in the skillet with plenty of grease and turn the heat to high.”
Thomas is going to be eaten alive!
And Kelly’s mother is a hypocrite, after all that love from the heart stuff she’d spouted all those years.
For his part, Thomas liked to describe their physical attraction as akin to a finely blended vodka martini, which goes down smooth yet leaves a warm afterglow. So now we know that Kelly goes down smooth, either through practice or natural talent given she doesn’t really love him, and leaves him with a warm afterglow. A pretty thought.
Third, Thomas is much older than Kelly. The fact that Kelly has a stepfather is introduced here as she contemplates his marriage to her mother and their happiness even though he is several decades older. So the fact that Thomas is so much older than she is doesn’t matter either. He is a dot in her life plan, after all.
Now, back to her mother’s phone call. Her father has passed away. Kelly exclaims her stepfather’s name. Mom says, no, not Josh. Him!
“Him?” Think hard Kelly, here’s a clue: he donated sperm to your mother. And if she’s not talking about your stepfather, who does that leave under the heading of “father?”
Yes Gene, aka Father, died two weeks ago and a lawyer wants her mother to go back to Wisconsin to settle his estate. Mom wants Kelly to go back for her. Because Josh, aka Stepfather, is going into the hospital for tests. “Something to do with his colon.”
Kelly whines that she is busy with the magazine and her wedding to Thomas, and the reader is treated to an incredibly surreal conversation:
“How is Thomas?” “He’s fine.” “And you?” “We’re fine.”
Hello! Father dead! Stepfather going into hospital! Ok, Kelly’s father is not her prime concern in life, but she loves her stepfather, so what gives? Even her mother doesn’t seem all that concerned about Josh. But, after all, what is a colon in the grander scheme of things?
Kelly learns that she has to go to Lake Winnebago to settle her father’s infinitesimal estate. The name rings a cord even though it means nothing to her.
Chapter Two has Kelly reading an essay about her biologic father that her mother gave her when she was eleven because she didn’t want it and which Kelly never read. But she assumes her mother thought she’d throw it out. Why on earth would her mother give her an essay about her father which she expects her to throw away?
Anyway, the essay. It starts with a list of facts about the history and formation of Lake Winnebago, the lake’s psyche, and the Indians that lived there before the coming of the Europeans.
Sidenote: One tidbit that I hadn’t known is that “Winnebago” is from the Menomee word “Winnibégo” which means “dirty water people.” This completely explains why the Winnebego RV was named the Winnebago. Use one of those RV toilets a time too many…
Back to the essay. Gene Nicolet Barbary was conceived on a houseboat during one of Lake Winnebago’s gentler mood swings. Sex on a houseboat being difficult during a storm, you know. After he turned two his mother would take him to wade along the lake’s sandy beach. She would get uneasy and call out “Gene.” A good thing since that was his name. He would say he was Okay and she’d say “Yes you are, Gene.” Seasons came and went.
What on earth was that all about? Did she have a premonition or was she just weird? And why is this in the essay? For that matter, why the essay at all?
We are told that during the late fifties the city of Oshkosh grew and flourished–whether this was due to young Gene or not isn’t said. Even though OshKosh flourished, the Barbarys remained in town. They were incredibly unobservant because they never quite realized the income requisite to purchase lakeshore property. When Gene’s dad died, the only hope of getting a spot on Winnebago’s wooded shoreline was to earn the money himself.
Aha! This is a taste of Gene’s future but Kelly’s past. She keeps calling her father’s estate nothing and with no money attached. Raise your hand if you think she’s in for a shock and good old Gene was not only rolling in it, but also had much, much more than a shack?
We learn about Gene joining the Corps of Engineers and generally fishing a lot after his father’s death. And that was prescient for his mother and she accepts that her son’s life and the lake had become inextricably intertwined.
Raise your hand if you now suspect that Gene’s death had something to do with the lake.
Vietnam slinked into Oshkosh like a sorcerer’s black curse and Gene served his country. But it was close to home, at least, since Vietnam was right there in the city. His mental fabric was altered in some vague and intangible way and he lost two digits. When he came back he sold his boat but kept the motor in his mother’s basement with his fishing tackle. He didn’t want to troll for walleye anymore so he went to Chicago to hew blocks of ice for a Lake Michigan ice house.
Fitting into an evolutionary pattern in a man’s life which is born from necessity, desire, hormones and fate, Gene met Melody (Kelly’s mom), fell in love and became a husband. When he first set eyes on his new baby girl he feared his heart might burst with joy.
This is certainly an odd essay for Kelly’s mother to have written. Did she want Kelly to know about her father? Did she write it for herself? She didn’t want it anymore when she gave it to Kelly. And Kelly never read it, though she didn’t throw it away. A mystery that may be solved later in the book.
Thomas calls later that night and she tells him about the essay. She goes to bed after reading the essay a second time. She’s a glutton for punishment.
In Chapter Three, having said she’ll go, Kelly delegates the travel arrangements to her managing editor and spends the next two weeks micromanaging the next issue of her magazine. The time to leave comes and she plans to fly in and out in one weekend.
Raise your hand if you think the trip will be longer than a weekend. Even without the description on Amazon giving that away, the reader will still think it’s obvious.
During the flight she finds herself thinking about her natural father for the first time since her mother’s call. How is it possible to have read an essay about a man’s life twice without thinking of him at all?
Thomas had reserved a rental car for her when she landed—the managing editor who made all her travel plans must have forgotten it. And even though he’s rich, the car is a measly Taurus. She coasts under the speed limit to OshKosh smiling at fields of corn and pastures of grazing dairy cattle. The congestion of Los Angeles freeways seem like imaginary images from a foreign country. She’s been there for under an hour and Los Angeles is already imaginary and a foreign land?
Flashbacks within flashbacks and lengthy history and geology lessons cause the reader to lose the path of the story a few times in this sample. Lots of platitudes are stirred into the mix, and there are plenty of hints of what is to come to give the story away.