A Spell on the Water
With a strong theme of survival after loss, Marjorie Kowalski Cole dramatizes the life of a family who moves to northern Michigan to permanently stay in their resort-style vacation home. A mother of five, Mary Leader is suddenly a widow and forced to raise her young children on her own. The biggest decision of her life is to move to the rural town, raising her kids in the 1960s to be strong, independent, and without prejudice. The beautiful setting of their home in Pinestead is a character in itself, as the author portrays her love of nature’s beauty through her descriptive writing of the sounds and sights where Mary’s family lives.
Instead of embracing the idyllic life the small community has to offer, Mary succumbs to alcoholism and puts her family and others at risk. We watch her children grow up while in turn they watch her with trepidation, yet with the hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
With a unique writing style, the author’s prose begins to grow on you after a while. At first it feels stunted and without form, seeming like a runaway train that we can’t catch. The bounce from a stream-of-consciousness rhythm back to the past tense is initially jarring but soon becomes natural. At times the writing mimics that of a memoir rather than a novel, except the narrative also shifts points of view between mother and children. With this shift, it is hard to grasp empathy for one character alone, but the hope for the family’s survival is always there. Instead of romanticizing the family’s struggles, this is a plainspoken story of a family’s intertwining faith and grief, coupled with teenage angst and alcoholism, which speaks from a hopeful heart.