Crow Lake

by Mary Lawson

Paper Book, 2002




New York : Dial Press, 2002.


In the rural farm country of northern Ontario, the lives of two families--the farming Pye family, and zoologist Kate Morrison and her three brothers--are brought together and torn apart by misunderstanding, resentment, family love, and tragedy.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lkernagh
I hadn't been aware that people could change. But then, I hadn't been aware that people could die. At least not people you loved and needed. Death in principle I had known about; death in practice - no. I hadn't known that could happen.

This is my kind of story! I am still amazed that I purchased
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this one on a whim based solely on the recommendation of a total stranger at a book sale, took it home, place it on my bookcase and promptly forgot about it for over three years. Why didn't I start reading it as soon as I got it home!!?! The fact that I read this one from start to finish in less than 24 hours (yes, I did need to stop reading it to sleep and other things) speaks to the page turning quality of this mesmerizing story, at least for me.

Crow Lake: A small, somewhat isolated farming community in Northern Ontario and home to the Morrison family. When I say small, I mean small with about a dozen farms, a general store, a school and a church. Closest town was 20 miles away. Isolated in that there was only one road into Crow Lake and the train that passed through only stopped if you flagged it down. A tranquil place, or so one would think. Told through the point of view of Kate, an assistant professor of invertebrate ecology at a University in Toronto, we meet her family and the tragedy that struck them that fatal Saturday in July when Kate was only seven years old.

To say that this is a story about coping with loss and the struggles and sacrifices made to keep a family together really oversimplifies all that this story has to offer a reader. Lawson joins the ranks of some of my favorite authors like Timothy Findley, David Adams Richards and John Bemrose as having a wonderful gift for storytelling, bringing the characters, the events, the settings and the time period to life with poignant prose and balance. By the end of the story I felt like I had visited the Morrisons at the house in Crow Lake and had spent an afternoon at the ponds with Kate and her brother Matt.

What makes Crow Lake such an amazing story is that Lawson doesn't try to be everything or show everything to the reader. This story is told from Kate's POV and there are gaps where Kate was not privy to information or events, which brings a realism to the story that I really appreciate. I found it very easy to connect with Kate as a character. Her self confessed lack of empathy and strong desire to isolate herself from emotional attachments is one I can understand and appreciate. Now, don't get me wrong... this is not just a story about Kate. Kate's older brothers Luke and Matt and her baby sister Bo (short for Elizabeth) are also wonderfully drawn complex characters.

I like to pin my stories down to the era they are set in. This story has a timeless quality to it and could even today represent a small northern Canadian community, but Lawson did provide me with one piece of information to set the time period: Mention of the doctor's bill. While Canada's universal mediacare system had its start in 1946 in Saskatchewan, it was adopted by all provinces in 1961, with the federal Medicare Act being brought in in 1966. I think it is safe to say that young Kate was probably born in the late 1950's or early 1960's. That is my theory anyways.

Overall, a wonderfully poignant story that kept me up reading way, way past my usual bed time and provided me with a strong connection to characters that has been missing from a number of books I have been reading lately.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Crow Lake is the 2002 debut novel by Mary Lawson and it went on to win the Books in Canada First Novel Award. The story is set in Northern Ontario and is about the struggle four children have to stay together when their parents die in a car crash. The oldest, Luke, puts his life on hold in order to
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stay with the younger children. The next brother, Matt, feels guilty that he is going to be the one who gets to go to University. But a deranged neighbour brings about some changes that affect their plans for the future.

The author shows the depth of the love, concern, rivalry and expectations that family can have for each other. The story unfolds through the voice of Katherine, now in her late twenties and a professor of zoology, in a series of flashbacks. Kate was seven when her parents died, the eldest daughter, and she instinctively turns to her brother Matt for love and protection. Their toddler sister, Bo, is a wonderfully engaging character and I loved how she was such a major part of the story, and not put in the background like many young children in books are. Kate’s perspective is not necessarily an accurate one, and she has grown into a woman who has difficulty with emotions, but the misunderstandings and resentments have developed over the years and now she must learn to reconcile her opinion of her favorite brother’s lifestyle with what she had hoped for him.

I can’t say enough about what a wonderful read this was. The setting is very evocative and this small rural community comes alive on the pages. Crow Lake is a great story of family love and sacrifice and it felt very real. I am going to miss reading about these characters.
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LibraryThing member katylit
What a wonderful, wonderful book. There was so much to identify with for me, Toronto, Northern Ontario, the ponds, the loss of parent, family dynamics, the yearning for academics. Simply, I love this book. And I'm so tickled to have a new author to enjoy, now I can't wait to read The Other Side of
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the Bridge. Mary Lawson's writing is so deceptively simple and straight-forward. I loved some of her turns of phrase like "as all get out" (something my dad used to say all the time) and the sentence "There are certain occasions that nothing short of death excused you from and this was one of them." I found Crow Lake to be one of those books that you can't wait to finish but don't want to finish and those are the very best kind of books.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
Luke, Matt, Kate, and Bo Morrison are born in the isolated northern Ontario community of Crow Lake. Neighbouring families are few, jobs fewer, and academic opportunities fewer yet. But the Morrisons, as descendants of great grandmother Morrison, who “fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so
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that she could read while she was spinning” (3) have hope for the latter. Luke is accepted to teachers’ college, and later Matt will earn a full scholarship to university. Alas, on the eve of Luke’s departure for college, tragedy intervenes when both parents are killed. Luke, not yet twenty, will not hear of separating the family and vows, against the advice of all, that he, with Matt’s help, will raise the much younger Kate and Bo. Incredibly, with the help of salt-of-the-earth neighbours, the siblings manage. Matt’s university pursuits will be deterred not by tragedy, although this is how Kate sees the situation, but by the carelessness of youth – carelessness which will entangle them with a troubled local family:

“The Pyes were what you’d call a problem family, always had been, always would be, but that year, within the privacy of their big old grey-painted farmhouse – offstage as far as the rest of the community was concerned – their problems were developing into a full-scale nightmare. The other thing we didn’t know was that the Pye nightmare was destined to become entangled with the Morrison dream. Nobody could have predicted that.” (7)

Kate alone leaves Crow Lake and pursues great grandmother’s dream. But she is never able to reconcile what she sees as the tragedy of Matt’s failure – and she is never able to forgive him. While theirs had been the closest of the Morrison sibling relationships, there now remains only her guilt, judgment, and lack of empathy. Returning to Crow Lake years later for a family celebration, she is overcome to at last see her behavior clearly. She says of great grandmother Morrison: “It is you, with your love of learning, who set the standard against which I have judged everyone around me, all of my life. I have pursued your dream single mindedly; I have become familiar with books and ideas you never even imagined, and somehow, in the process of acquiring all that knowledge, I have managed to learn nothing at all.” (289)

I was stunned to learn that Crow Lake is a debut novel! Beautifully written, haunting, engaging, funny, heartbreaking – I was up late into the night, furiously turning pages. As well as a beautiful story of family relationships, Lawson nails northern Ontario – and, oh, her prose! She has earned a place on my list of favourite authors, and Crow Lake has earned five-stars on my list of favourite, extraordinary reads. A must read!


If you’ve never been North, you will have been by the end of this passage:

“There had been several storms before the lake froze over, and the waves, with arctic winds driving them on, had broken up the sheets of ice that had formed along the shore and tossed them up on their edges. For a week they stood like glistening shards of glass, jagged as shark’s teeth. Then the wind picked up again, and the temperature dropped, and waves smashed against the shards and threw up spray which froze before it hit the ground. It fell with a rattle and piled up in pebbled heaps among the shards, finally covering them completely in hills of polished glass. And then the lake froze over, and at night the only sound was the moaning of the wind.” (167)
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Kate Morrison lost both her parents when she was only 7 years old. Her oldest brother Luke, then 19, decided to set aside his plans to attend teacher college and convinced their extended family to allow him to serve as guardian over Kate, her brother Matt (then 17), and sister Bo (2). Matt was the
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family scholar, and Kate idolized him. All eyes were on Matt to graduate from high school and achieve the greatness that was his destiny.

But this story is told by Kate, who is now in her late 20s, and a university professor living 400 miles from her home in rural northern Ontario. Kate is “the one who left”; she doesn’t see her family often, and doesn’t share details about her family or their tragic history with her boyfriend, Daniel. When Kate receives an invitation to her nephew’s 18th birthday party, it causes her significant anxiety and strains their relationship. And then the story begins to come out …

The chapters in Crow Lake switch between past and present, slowly revealing what happened in the year after Kate’s parents died, and how those events shaped the adult Kate. The community of Crow Lake comes alive with a varied cast of characters, and a subplot filled with dramatic tension. By the time of the nephew’s birthday party, it seems like the whole story has been told, but author Mary Lawson deftly weaves in elements that dramatically change the reader’s understanding. This complex family drama was “unputdownable.”
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This quiet little book ended up being one of the best reads of the year for me. It has everything a good novel should, wonderful characters, an interesting plot and a truly atmospheric time and place (Northern Ontario). The writing is absolutely beautiful and on more than one occasion, it made me
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think, about what we hope for, what we sacrifice and our place in the world. At its core it is a story of four children suddenly orphaned when their parents are killed in an auto accident. The two oldest, Matt and Luke, who are teenagers, struggle to care for the protagonist Kate (seven at the time of the parents' death) and their infant sister, Bo. Much of the story is told in flashback, with the adult Kate struggling with her relationship and reflecting on her career (zoology). There is a lot about living your dreams, reaching, or leaving them behind, a community pulling together, dealing with violence with some of the neighbors and some of the most real, but loving, sibling relationships I've read about. Northern Ontario also factors in highly and it is fascinating to read about the settlers of the area and the harsh beauty of the biology, nature and life there. I highly recommend this for a shorter novel to really sink into. You could easily finish it in a day, but might want to savor it.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
When seven-year-old Kate loses her parents in a tragic accident, her two teenage brothers determine to stay in the family home and take care of Kate and her toddler sister, Bo. Kate and Matt are particularly close; he has shared with her his love of marine biology. As she is looking back on this
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story from 18 years in the future, she views his decision to forego college as a devastating shame; she cannot reconcile his sacrifice, and the life it leads him to build, with his academic brilliance and intellectual curiosity. The novel moves back and forth between the year following their parents' death and the time in the future when Kate, herself a successful assistant professor, decides to take her serious boyfriend home to meet the family. As her story and Matt's begin to come together, Kate is faced with the painful realization that she has never really seen her brother's life from his perspective, that the tragedy of almost two decades ago has never released her to see the joys that the present offers to all of them. Lawson's descriptions of the farming community, its characters and culture, are beautiful. The novel is poignant and moving and memorable.
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LibraryThing member KAzevedo
I stayed up past midnight reading "Crow Lake" last night, not wanting to stop, but finally putting it down and going to bed. I was awake for quite awhile, trying to decide what made this book so compelling to me. As I thought over passages in my mind, I realized that I could not think of a single
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time when the writing was overdone, when there were extra, unecessary words. It's not that the writing is particularly spare or elegant, it just seems perfect; the right words every time to fully illuminate feelings, events, and settings. Reading about these characters, I felt completely in synch with them, with total understanding of their motivations and points of view. I cared for the Morrison family more deeply than any people I've read about lately. It's a special book, and I recommend it without reservation.
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LibraryThing member SmithSJ01
I completely disagree with the blurb on this one. It is dreadfully written and has no depth whatsoever. I was unable to identify with any of the characters and the only part of the family life I could really understand was the will to achieve. I couldn’t work out why Kate couldn’t bring herself
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to speak to her older brother Matt years after their family tragedy. Even once the author revealed this it still didn’t seem quite right.

The blurb informs you of this slow burning story, well for me it didn’t even get ignited, let alone burn slowly. I found Kate, the narrator of the story a dreadful character. It wasn’t even the lack of empathy she exhibited but she was simply awful. I can’t see why she had to be written this way as I didn’t feel it reflected the nature of who she was as a child even following the tragic incidents that occurred. For me, the only aspect in its favour was its length; which thankfully was short.
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LibraryThing member jessibud2
Last night, I finished reading Crow Lake by Canadian author Mary Lawson. It was a slow, quiet story, a story told in a past/present format, with lots of build-up. The writing is spare yet evocative, reflective, personal. I liked the back and forth bits but at times, I just wanted the big reveal to
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happen, already. Still, especially for a debut novel, it was very good. Lawson is quite masterful at description and I could almost see the landscape, the house, the ponds, even though I have never been to remote northern Ontario.

The story is about 4 children, orphaned young; the 2 older boys are in their teens, the 2 younger girls are 1 and 7 years old, when their parents are killed in a car accident (this happens early in the book so this is not a spoiler at all). The story is narrated by Kate, the third child, when she is in her late 20s and chronicles the efforts of the boys, especially, and the struggles, sacrifices and cost, to keep the family together, no matter what. There are, of course, other strands of the story at play, that Kate comes to understand only in retrospect but all the pieces of the puzzle are there, revealed slowly. It feels odd to say this but the book was both frustrating and satisfying, at the same time. I did like it.
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
Great book! The story develops really well, and you quickly come to love the characters and enter their world. A great read: good balance between pleasure fiction and a literature.
LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
Kate Morrison is a zoologist who is invited to her nephew's 18th birthday. As Kate contemplates whether or not to also invite her boyfriend Daniel to the party, a flood of memories from Kate's childhood returns. She thinks back upon a time at which a tragedy befell her family and her two older
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brothers, Mat and Luke, offered to care for Kate and their very young sister Bo.

This is the story of a beautiful and soul-touching sibling relationship, that of Kate and her older brother Matt. I usually don't read stories such as this, but I was hooked by the two older brothers who had much in common with my own two older sons in that they are "similar in differences" (!) of age, character, and physical appearance. I identified with the two brothers right away.

In addition, there is a somewhat dark and edgy feel to this story that kept me turning pages pretty quickly. A family of farmers, the Pyes, seemed to be a little bit "off". I wanted to know what was wrong with them, but the story proceeded by keeping that information merely as a shadowy background issue forcing me to read more quickly to find out.

The themes of this story totally captivated me. It dealt with family allegiance, personal responsibility, the hope for advanced education, and, more to the point, shame. The author does an amazing job of both developing the story and its characters in what turns out to be a very original and deeply moving story.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
I'd had this on my bookshelf for quite some time & was always anxious to get to it, but there always seemed to be something *else* to do first. I'd always read such great reviews about this book -- everyone I know who's read it has loved it, so I was anxious to finally get a chance to dive in. And
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I enjoyed it -- I did. But. I was not blown away. I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and it never did. Or rather, I guess it did, but it was a letdown after all the hype and buildup in the story. I did feel like it was written well & I enjoyed the alternate past/present chapters, but like I already said, I guess I was just waiting for this big climax that I felt never really was realized. So, a bit of a disappointment overall.
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LibraryThing member jtho
Great book! What I was most impressed with was the pacing. Small details are revealed a bit at a time, and shadows that are hinted at early on the book take a long time to be revealed, but at just the right pace. There's suspense, but I was always content to wait it out because I was enjoying so
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much whatever part I was currently reading.

Kate's parents are killed when she is about six years old, and her older brothers decide to take care of the family - Luke, Matt, Kate and toddler Bo. Everyone makes decisions they can't predict the consequences of. The entire remote farming community helps the family out, but small incidents on their parts also affect the family's future. Kate tells the story 20 years later as she's a university professor, preparing to go back to Crow Lake for a family celebration. All of the characters are likable, even for their bad decisions, and are very easy to understand and empathize with.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
This was a NICE book. Likeable, really nice characters, not a false sentence in the whole book, a very quick read. Nothing unusual or startling.
LibraryThing member zerraweth
Subtly strong - I always find myself coming back to it to remind me of what's important.
LibraryThing member xmaystarx
Mary Lawson writes beautiful prose and descriptions throughout this book. The story is of a family of 4 children who lose their parents in a car accident. Part of the book describes their struggles growing up with the 2 teenage brothers raising their younger sisters and the other sections follow
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Kate's (older of the 2 girls) adult life and the feelings she still holds about the family's situation. The story is told through everyday, ordinary activities yet is so much deeper. You really get to care about the family and have a good sense of the town of Crow Lake, the people and the surroundings.
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LibraryThing member wendellg
read this one for professional reasons - didnt't think I'd like it but I did: it's a quintessentially Canadain novel-a family tragedy unfolding at a glacial pace against a large, hostile natural environment; that may not sound like an endorsement, but it really is: the book just drew me in; it
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helped that it really captured the feeling of Northern Ontario...
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LibraryThing member eargent
I really enjoyed this book. I found the writing to be very good and the characters fascinating. I look forward to reading more of her stories.
LibraryThing member byroade
Plot summary: One bright summer day Kate Morrison's parents set out to town for a special shopping expedition: to purchase a suitcase for their eldest son Luke to take with him to teacher's college. His acceptance to college, the first in the family, is the long-awaited fulfillment of his
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great-grandmother's lifelong quest for education, a thirst that was transmitted to all her descendants. But on that fateful day a truck's brakes fail, and the four Morrison children are left orphans. Although plans are made for relatives to care for the children, the two sons, Luke and Matthew, decide that they will raise their much younger sisters, 7 year-old Kate and baby Bo. Luke gives up his place at college, but Matthew, who is truly gifted, stays in school with the goal of winning a University scholarship. This first year of orphanhood is marked by the devastation of the children, the generosity of their isolated farming community, and Matt's constant studies. As this family recovers from their loss, their lives become entwined with the saga of their nearest neighbors' dysfunctional family history. Kate, twenty years later, recounts the events of that momentous year and its fallout as she prepares for a visit home with her boyfriend.

Critique: This first novel is beautifully written and vividly evocative of its isolated rural Canadian setting. The best thing about it is that it becomes clear that Kate needs a clue-by-four and boy does she get it! While the description above may sound depressing and sad, the story itself is powerfully life-affirming, while never sentimental or cloying.
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LibraryThing member RiverWitch
Beautifully written story of siblings who have lost their parents and have only each other.
LibraryThing member co_coyote
This is the debut novel by Canadian writer Mary Lawson. Not the kind of book I would normally read, my wife bought this some time ago and left it sitting on a shelf. I think one of the reasons I love to read is because of books like this. Surprising books. Books that grab you by the throat when you
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are wandering around without expectations and won't release you. This was an absolute delight for 7/8ths of the book, and then I think the author must have realized she was on the verge of writing a most wonderful first novel and lost her nerve a little bit. She started telling, rather than showing, just at the end of the story, and put the slightest bit of tarnish on an otherwise shiny gem of a book.

This is the story of Kate, a seven year-old girl, and her two (much) older brothers and her younger sister, just after tradgey strikes the family and the parents unexpectedly die. It is the story of sacrifice and triumph, and dreams lost and found over the next 20 years. Sensitively told, uplifting, and thoroughly compelling. I can't wait for the next book from this fine writer.
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LibraryThing member Oregonreader
This is a story about four brothers and sisters who lose their parents as children and how their relationships develop. Well-written characters and a good story.
LibraryThing member JGoto
Crow Lake is the poignant story of a woman looking back on her childhood in rural Ontario. After her parents are killed in a car crash when she is seven years old, Kate and her baby sister are raised by their older brothers. This beautifully written story shows their struggle for survival and the
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sibling love and misunderstandings that shape their lives.
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LibraryThing member allison.sivak
An enjoyable read, although I felt that the buildup of the "family secret" didn't play out.


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