William P. Crawford,
The Lake
(BookSurge, 2010)

The premise of The Lake is an interesting one. A lake in California starts making everyone that drinks from it chronically healthy. As posited by the central character (Los Angeles Water District's new public relations director Jeff Lindsay), too much of a good thing can really turn into a disaster.

It's like Roland Emmerich was asked to write a story about a fountain of youth, but instead of end-of-the-world contrivances, he opted for rationality and reason. Crawford explores the socio-political ramifications of people not getting sick, and it's really interesting. The reader sees the logical progression of involvement by the governor, the president, the military and foreign dignitaries. When the book stays on task, the planning and organization in response to the health crisis is possibly the most consistently interesting element in this book.

Staying on task, though, seems to be a recurring problem with the story/structure -- there are just so many tangents. Sometimes the asides are oddly interesting (like these tiny foxes on an island or a historical subplot) but sometimes the tangents get so involved that you wonder if the author wanted to write another book instead. The Irish tangents especially come across as distracting moreso than enriching the story. In fact, the trip to Ireland with Kate's family towards the end -- at that point, I was honestly wondering if Crawford had decided to jettison the whole California crew since the book didn't have much longer left to it.

Speaking of Kate, the characters are the other obstacle to the story's success. Too often they come across as two-dimensional and simplistic, even when their flaws are explored. Jeff, Chet, Amy ... they don't seem to exist beyond their descriptions and a few lines of dialogue. And then there's Kate, the trite Celtic goddess that seems to have the answers for everything. She's seemingly set up as this too-good-to-be-true character, but apparently that's exactly what she is. Just when we (the reader) gets to hear Jeff basically tell Kate the frustration/annoyance we have with her, it seems like some character development will finally occur and some type of progression will occur!! But alas, we get a return to Kate as the annoying avatar of perfection.

An interesting premise, lacking focus and questionable characters ... The Lake tries to incorporate a lot of disparate elements into a single work. The author has a wealth of knowledge to share (which probably explains the tangents) and despite decades of maritime writing, this is his first work of fiction (which probably explains the character development). Even with its flaws, the story still manages to hook the reader for a few more pages. The premise is certainly intriguing, and the writer's prose is easy to follow. The Lake is certainly worth a chance.

book review by
C. Nathan Coyle

9 July 2011

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