Edra Ziesk,
A Cold Spring
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002)

Edra Ziesk's A Cold Spring is an exquisite portrait of a small Vermont town in which the smallest action sets off a chain of reaction with life-shattering consequences.

Leonora, better known as Lenny, lives on the mountain outside of Amity in one of three houses on the slope. She shares her house with her teen-aged grandson, Jody, a boy who has been silent since she rescued him from abuse and abandonment as a toddler. One house up live James Easter, a solitary high school teacher with a passion for geology. The uppermost house has been empty for years until this spring when Nell Maye, granddaughter of the couple who left it to her, moves in with her husband Billy. Nell has a teaching position at the high school, and Billy plans to open a Mexican restaurant.

The triggers that set off the events of the novel are small, subtle and insignificant, like a pebble that starts an avalanche when it is dislodged. Once it starts, it won't stop until it is played out to the end. In the case of A Cold Spring, it culminates in death for one of the characters and disruptions in the lives of the others. Yet the novel ends on a grace note of promise and hope and the mystery of how upheaval and change can lead to growth.

Ziesk's writing is absorbing, drawing in and involving the read in the story. At first, the absence of quotation marks in the dialogue annoyed me as an arty conceit, but my annoyance evaporated as I was driven to read on and on. Ziesk not only evokes images with impressive and poetic economy; she creates characters who are tangible and who leap alive in your mind's eye.

A Cold Spring closes with unanswered questions and loose ends, but in real life, the loose ends don't always get tied up neatly. Ziesk doesn't tell a story with a beginning, middle and end as much as she dips into the lives of a handful of people and out again, leaving them to their own resolution in a way that is both evocative and engrossing.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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