Vacationland: A Novel by Sarah Stonich

Vacationland by Sarah StonichBOOK PREVIEW

From the best-selling author of These Granite Islands, a novel of stories intersecting at a broken-down fishing resort in the north woods of Minnesota

On a lake in northernmost Minnesota, you might find Naledi Lodge — only two cabins still standing, its pathways now trodden mostly by memories. And there you might meet Meg, or the ghost of the girl she was, growing up under her grandfather’s care in a world apart and a lifetime ago. Those whose paths have crossed at Naledi inhabit Vacationland: a man from nearby Hatchet Inlet who knew Meg back when, a Sarajevo refugee sponsored by two parishes who can’t afford “their own refugee,” aged sisters traveling to fulfill a fateful pact once made at the resort, a philandering ad man, a lonely Ojibwe stonemason, and a haiku-spouting girl rescued from a bog.

Vacationland is a moving portrait of a place – at once timeless and of the moment, composed of conflicting dreams and shared experience – and of the woman bound to it by legacy and sometimes longing, but not necessarily by choice.

Early reviews of Vacationland are in and glowing!

“…with compassionate insight and a gift for artful observation…each chapter renders a story complete, and together weave a deeply mined narrative of place and people. Elegiac, yet life affirming.” ~ Kirkus

“Vacationland showcases Sarah Stonich’s incredible talent.” ~ Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

“Within Vactionland, Stonich collects the lonesome souls of a beguiling, timeworn place and gives us profound glimpses into their hopes and sorrows. By turns funny, haunting, and heartbreaking, she finds the universal in the specific, the deeply human in the parochial and peculiar.” ~ Peter Bognanni, author of The House of Tomorrow

Sarah Stonich on the true character of rural life

Vacationland’s Naledi Lodge is inspired by those rustic mom-and-pop resorts that are disappearing along with their big fish, bad mattresses, wooden docks, flashlight trots to the outhouse, the real Milky Way, and bonfires.

I feel equally invested in all of the visitors to Naledi – like Jon, the Ojibwe stonemason who observes the world with a writer’s sensibility, or Ursa, who is completely out of patience for polite chat but can look back on her life without regrets. I have soft spots for Alpo, the retired machinist, and Cassi the obsessive compulsive teen. I’d like to know them all better, and while they each have a distinct story, it’s the sum of their parallax views that brings Naledi to life – their connections are like those hand-drawn maps of resorts with cabins dotting the shore, curvy paths and driveways connecting one to the next and each to the docks, and the looping circular drive encompassing all.

Like any tourist economy, the dynamic here between locals and vacationers isn’t always harmonious. I wanted to explore the flip side: what townies and tourists do have in common, like the winter caretaker who turns a scientific eye to local wildlife in the way a Halifax geologist might. Any assumptions I’d had about rural versus metropolitan were dashed. While the women in Hatchet Inlet are all strong, the men are not all goodlooking, and not all the children are above average. Rather, the true character of Northern Minnesota runs deep, rich and indirect as any vein of iron ore.

My hope is that visitors to Vacationland leave with more than a lousy t-shirt—that they would take away enduring memories as well.

 

Sarah Stonich is the bestselling author of These Granite Islands, translated Sarah Stonichinto seven languages and shortlisted for France’s Gran Prix de Lectrices de Elle; the critically acclaimed novel The Ice Chorus; and a memoir, Shelter. The founder of WordStalkers.com, she lives in Minneapolis and spends summers in northeastern Minnesota. For more visit sarahstonich.com.

The Ice Chorus by Sarah Stonich

Book Review
Title: The Ice Chorus
Author: Sarah Stonich
Publisher: Alma Books (Revised Edition)
Released: 2009
Pages: 312
ISBN-10: 1846880823
ISBN-13: 978-1846880827
Stars: 4.0

The Ice Chorus by Sarah Stonich is the picturesque, perceptive and contemporary tale of Liselle (Lise) Dupre, an amateur documentary filmmaker from Toronto who is torn between the men in her life: her self-absorbed, archaeologist husband Stephen, 17-year-old son Adam, once womanizing and now dead father Hart, and the lover she met on a Mexican vacation – Welsh painter Charles Lowan – who makes her feel like she has never felt before.

Exquisitely written with as much consideration of light and fluidity as the loving and precise brushstrokes of the story’s artist, Stonich reinforces the fact that nothing ever turns out the way we think it will. Their mature and deeply romantic love story is recalled in vivid, powerful flashbacks in which we feel Lise’s agony every bit as her ecstasy and are completely empathetic to her dilemma.

Author Nuala O’Faolain declared that, “Any woman who ever had her heart cracked open by a man should read The Ice Chorus.” And she’s right. I was hauntingly reminded of my most meaningful, romantic epiphany that occurred in Ireland seven years ago, and was attracted to the book’s synopsis for this reason.

After an intense affair with Charlie while on holiday in the Yucatán, Lise uncovers the real reason why she has avoided intimacy and allowed her marriage to simply happen to her. She had consented to a life that didn’t make her happy and only in Charlie’s arms did she discover the colours of love and how it feels to be genuinely understood.

“Sitting back, she framed Charlie in half shade, her gaze climbing to the hard line of his jaw, his deep temple and too-broad forehead. He would be considered plain by most.

“You choose what you see, I suppose.”

He considered her a long moment before touching her arm. “You should, you know.”

The nails of his fingers were rimmed in ochre, the same colour pressed into the fabric of his shirt. The weight of them on her skin was light, acute.

“I should what?”

“Do what that journalist suggested. Make a film of yourself.”

When he pulled his hand away, she felt marked.

“Elle?”

She froze. No one had called her that for a very long time. It took a moment for her to reply without her voice cracking. “Yes?”

Lise struggles with how to find the right time to end her marriage to Stephen, realizing that she’s bound to lose Adam in the split. Confiding in no one but her best friend Leonard, who is gay, Lise is soon forced to make a decision when Charlie’s art is exhibited in Toronto and everyone in the gallery is witness to seven remarkably intimate portraits of his “Elle”.

After many months of angst-ridden contemplation, Lise decides to start over again in rural Ireland where she builds her new life and waits for Charlie’s return. It is here that the novel begins.

While in Eire, Lise gradually forms a new familial bond with Remy (the local shanachie and hardware store owner) & Margaret Conner (an elegant cake maker with a deep, dark secret) and their prickly granddaughter Siobhan, characters that are as richly envisioned and fulfilled as the Irish seascape in Lowan’s painting; the catalyst for Lise’s decision. She rents a plain house in a remote village near the sea and embarks on a new journey of her own design. Lise slowly integrates into the lives of the villagers, who warm to her when she films them revealing how they met the love of their lives, and in the process exposes herself.

Sarah Stonich authentically depicts bucolic Ireland while smoothly weaving between the past and present and creates a “subtle, lovely evocation of the transforming power of love, forgiveness, midlife renewal and the power of art to transform life.” Her prose reminds me of the work of Maggie O’Farrell, Candida Clark and Lisa Carey, all of whom I love, and as she credits some of my favourite Irish writers (Edna O’Brien, Jamie O’Neill, Colum McCann) with inspiring her, I would not hesitate to read more of Stonich’s books.

The only complaint I have about The Ice Chorus is the way in which Stonich described Charlie’s return to Ireland which was all too brief and evasive for my liking. However, it did have a satisfying, albeit contemplative ending and was the perfect book to read as the year comes to an end and I reflect on my own journey of love and memory.