There were days of freedom, hunting or simply beating the summer heat in the shade of the tall pines, but even in the freedom Odd knew something was missing. He’d always known it. It took him years to understand the void, but when he did it was as if the mysteries of the wood were amplified. He saw in the wilderness a reflection of his motherlessness. It was easiness that was missing; the orphan’s onus, never seeming whole. It was as if he ran and hiked through the woods without his feet ever hitting the duff, as though his own ankles never felt the brush of the ferns. – from The Lighthouse Road –
Thea Eide leaves her home in Norway and travels by boat to a small town outside of Duluth, Minnesota in the 1890’s. She believes she is going to find a new and better life in America, but instead finds herself working as a cook in a logging camp where the winter’s cold seems endless and hungry wolves threaten livestock and people equally. It is here in the cold north where Thea gives birth to a son.
Odd Eide finds himself smuggling whiskey and fishing from a small skiff in the early part of the twentieth century in the same town in which he was born. Motherless, he has been raised by Hosea Grimm, a man who ministers to the townsfolk while profiting from illegal prostitution and drink. Also living beneath Hosea’s roof is Rebekah, Hosea’s adopted daughter, now a woman twice Odd’s age. Despite their gap in age, Rebekah and Odd fall in love and plot an escape from Hosea and the small town that has encapsulated their lives. But dark secrets from their pasts threaten their future together.
Peter Geye has crafted a novel of raw beauty about love, loss and the haunting landscape of Northern Minnesota. In a nonlinear narration which moves back and forth from the 1890’s to 1937, Geye reveals each character and the secrets they harbor. This structure creates an ever increasing tension in the novel as more questions arise, fade, resurface and are finally answered.
Geye’s ability to tease out the nuances of character is exquisite. No one is quite what they first appear. Hosea, perhaps my favorite character in the book, defies stereotyping. He first appears a hero, rescuing a young girl from a terrible situation and providing care to the people of the town. But, as the novel progresses, Hosea’s flaws are exposed and in the light of truth, he becomes just a man struggling with his demons, yet still wanting what we all want – to love and be loved. It is at this point that Hosea captures the full empathy of the reader.
The natural beauty of the landscape is as much a character in the story as are the humans who find themselves living on this unforgiving land which challenges them at every turn – whether it be the threat of storm, the frothy waves of the lake, the bitter cold, or the wolves whose howls fill the night. As in his previous novel, Safe from the Sea, Geye delivers a story lush with descriptions of small town life in Northern Minnesota. This is a novel filled with gorgeous prose and a sense of place that fully immerses the reader in the lives of the characters.
The Lighthouse Road is a novel about family and the complicated journey through love. It explores that ethereal bond between child and parent, the unexplainable desire to know where we come from and where we are going. Ultimately it is about finding home, not just in place but in the people with whom we share our lives.
I loved Safe from the Sea (read my review) and I had hoped that Peter Geye’s second book would also sweep me off my feet. I need not have worried – The Lighthouse Road did not disappoint. This is a stunning, poignant and powerful book which I highly recommend.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review.