Book info

The Long-Shining Waters (2011)

The Long-Shining Waters (2011)
Rating
3.41 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
1571310835 (ISBN13: 9781571310835)
languge
English
publisher
milkweed editions
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The Long-Shining Waters (2011)
The Long-Shining Waters (2011)

About book: It’s 1622, It’s 1902, It’s 2000 in Danielle Sosin’s debut novel “The Long-Shining Waters,” the story of three women living on Lake Superior.Grey Rabbit lives with her two sons, husband and mother-in-law in the winter of 1622 on the shore of Lake Superior and it’s been rough hunting and everyone is starving. Meanwhile, she’s having wicked dreams starring dead children and it’s messing with her psyche. She’s waking at odd times, wandering around, being extra protective of her younger son Little Cedar. Eventually she will consult with her mother-in-law, prays and offers up gifts to the lake. Berit and her husband live up the shore in relative isolation. Gunnar is a fisherman. Their relationship has been rocky, what with their inability to conceive. But suddenly there is a turnaround, Gunnar is doing his darndest to revive the relationship and it’s really taking. Berit spends the time between gardening and bread baking in a post-coital flush. What she doesn’t know is that Gunnar found a dead body in his nets. It was a man with a wedding ring and when Gunnar considers the family that is waiting at home for this man to return, it sparks a change in his own relationship. Unfortunately, the lake is a bitch and one day in 1902 Gunnar doesn’t come home. Nora is a widow in her mid-50s and owns a nautical-themed bar in Superior, Wis. There is the comfort of regulars, including an older woman who lives in the apartment upstairs and plays piano in the middle of the night. When the bar burns down, Nora spends some time restlessly considering her options. It’s her granddaughter who comes up with idea to road trip around the lake. In between the stories there are slices of prose poetry, seemingly the voice of the lake itself. This is a super visual novel about the power of the lake and the way it attracts people and affects dreams and can be both so beautiful and giving and oh-so cruel. None of these stories really have a finale or come to a resolution, any more than Nora deciding that she doesn’t want to be a cake decorator when she returns from her journey. So this is very slice of life-y, just peeking in the window and catching the stories of three women who are about to experience something life-changing. A lot of the things I thought would happen didn’t, but isn’t to say those things won’t happen off the page. Sosin leaves plenty of room for post-read fan fiction. Part of the fun of this book is reading something set on my home turf written by someone who has regularly walked on this turf and spent plenty of time looking around. It feels well-researched and considered, though that does get in the way occasionally when the facts detract from the inner stories of the women. It seems like maybe Sosin, who reportedly took nine years to write this book, spent her time really living in the character’s heads -- if not actually setting up a camp along the shore and living as Berit or Grey Rabbit for awhile, or taking a drive around the lake. Regardless, her version of Northeastern Minnesota is a nice reprieve from the generic Duluth that sometimes makes a cameo in fiction about another place. Sosin also serves as a historical guide, giving a face a voice to the lives of people who were here before us -- the lake as a unifying factor.

This book was read by our book club. It evoked very different responses from our group. Two members positively loved it. Everyone loved the description of the lake, but nearly everyone was frustrated by something: overuse of adjectives, lack of plot, lack of story resolution. Personally, I quit reading at page 108 when she came to the description of the lens at Split Rock Lighthouse; it was described as a ‘bi-valve frenzel’. The lens is a Fresnel, and this is such an easy fact to check, it makes me wonder how much else is wrong. I hated the book up to that point, and this was a good reason to quit torturing myself.The book was difficult to follow because it jumped from one character to another, and the narrations were uneven. Grey Rabbit, the Ojibwe woman from 1622, was shortchanged the most; her narrations got shorter and shorter, and she eventually just faded away. There was no resolution to her character, and other than the scalding of her son, nothing much happened to her. The native names were difficult to keep in order. We did get a chuckle out of the fact that the mother-in-law was named Bullhead.Berit, the character we liked the best, lost her husband to the lake. We walked with her through mental issues, but again, nothing was resolved in the end. We wanted to know what happened to her.Nora also had a major crisis when her bar burned down (we thought the novel’s Schooner Bar bore an uncanny resemblance to the Anchor Bar), and it led her to an odyssey around the lake, but again there was no resolution. Finally, there was an unidentified fourth character, represented by italic type. Remember the four different fonts and voices used in the Jodi Picoult book My Sister’s Keeper? In this case, we weren’t told specifically whose voice it was supposed to be. We deduced that it was Gunnar’s spirit, but it appeared while he was still alive. Very confusing – like Schrodinger’s cat.The majority of the members gave the assessment ‘Not my favorite’ book, which is definitely a Minnesota Nice call.
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Reviews
WM Rine
The Long-Shining Waters is one of the most unusual novels I have ever read, where a magical place, Lake Superior, becomes a central character in a novel spanning nearly four centuries via the loosely interlocking narratives of three women living along its shores -- Grey Rabbit, an Ojibwe woman living in the seventeenth century, Berit, a Scandianvian immigrant, and Nora, from the present day. Hardships, dreams, geography all weave their disparate experiences into a single story. Sosin's lyrical prose makes this a rich read. Although on one hand I never wanted to put it down, after reading a few short sections each night I always wanted to stop and savor it, as if I had just enjoyed a feast and wanted to make sure I remembered each bit of it before I went off to something else. An amazing effort for a first novel.
Tess Mertens-Johnson
Gichigami – Lake Superior.This book takes three women in three different eras and how Lake Superior was a part of their lives.In 1622, Grey Rabbit fears the waters will take her children. She is plagued with dreams of losing her children to the Great Gichigami. Her Native American family tries to deal with her fears and sense she is losing her mind.Berit and Gunnar is a young Norwegian couple in 1902. They are dealing with infertility when Gunnar’s fishing skiff turns over and hypothermia takes him. After he does not return, his friend John keeps trying to bring Berit to Duluth, but she slides deep into depression and gives up hope.In 2000 Nora’s bar on the shore of Lake Superior in Superior WI burns down. She has run her bar for 30 years. A few days after the fire, she gets in her car and drives all around the lake, up into Canada looking for a sign of what to do.Each woman in this book depends for their livelihood and yet it also creates a turning point in each of their lives. The fourth woman in the book is the Lake. She is the common thread that brings each story together.
Catherine
The Long-Shining Waters is the perfect book to read on a cold Minnesota evening - evokes the smell of ice, the bleached-out color of rock and tree, the particular push-pull of the wind. There's something mesmerizing about the way Lake Superior ties together the stories of the three women at the heart of this book, separated by a span of several hundred years. For each, the Lake holds stories and knowledge that they're not exactly looking for; for each, their fortune and that of their families is tied to the water, what it gives, and what it takes. I found Grey Rabbit's story the most compelling - when I realized what her dreams meant, I was gut-punched. Nora's was, to me, the least absorbing story, perhaps because I had no real sense of where she came from, or what made her - Grey Rabbit's opposite.The stories of the women are beautiful, stirring, and fascinating. What didn't work for me so well were the single-page interjections of an italicized narrator. It's hard to fathom that narrator's purpose before finding out whose voice we're listening to, and once we know, it's hard to imagine that person speaking that way. I'd have found the book just as - if not more - absorbing without it.
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