Vegan, Jane Austen student, Minimalist, Reader, Librarian

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Up North: Summer in Northern Michigan

At first, I thought about writing this post for my library blog, however, since it is SO Michigan-themed, I didn't think it would go over so well with the Pittsburgh crowd. So, my fellow Michiganders, this one's for you! :)

Nothing is more anticipated about living through a cold, gray, and snowy Michigan winter than the annual and ubiquitous vacation “Up North” in the summertime.  The sheer vastness of the Great Lakes, the warm days and cool nights, the many charming and historic small lake towns, and the gorgeous natural landscape (sand dunes, beaches, woods) that make up the beauty of northern Michigan are vividly evoked in the following titles.  (Don’t forget to buy some fudge! I wonder if there is vegan fudge?)

Author's photo. Lake Michigan
In Good Family, by Terry Gamble, filmmaker Maddie Addison, a privileged young woman, returns to her wealthy family’s exclusive summer house in Sand Isle, on Lake Michigan, where no cars are permitted—shades of Mackinac Island? -- to make peace with her dying alcoholic mother and reconnect with her quirky cousins and other extended family, years after a personal tragedy kept her away.  Beautifully written, with its lyrical descriptions of summer cottage life that makes you pine for summer, not to mention a family summer cottage of your very own.
The Water Dancers, Gamble’s critically-acclaimed debut, is also set at a summer cottage on Lake Michigan, but this time it’s the post-World War II era.  Rachel Winnapee, a poor Native American teen, takes a job as a maid at the March family’s summer home.  As her job requires that she also care for Woody, their emotionally wrecked son, a veteran, the relationship between servant to employer becomes friendship, which then blossoms into love.  Themes of class and race eventually collide with Mrs. March’s snobbish and ambitious plans for her only surviving son, and eventually spill over into the next generation with hidden secrets and prejudice.  
Many people don’t know that the well-traveled and world-renown Ernest Hemingway spent all his childhood summers in northern Michigan in and around Walloon Lake near Petoskey.  In The Nick Adams Stories, the main character grows from youth to adulthood amid a rustic and ever-changing landscape.  In two dozen coming-of-age stories, we first encounter Nick as a young boy accompanying his physician father fishing and then attending a risky Native American birth in “Three Shots” and “The Indian Camp.”  Later, he’s a teen on the run from conservation officers for poaching and selling trout in the quietly mesmerizing unfinished novella, “The Last Good Country,” and later, a soldier (“In Another Country”), married man (“Wedding Day”) and father in “Fathers and Sons.”  Here you’ll also find perhaps his most famous Michigan story, “Big Two-Hearted River,” about fishing and hunting in the wilderness that is the Upper Peninsula after the First World War, as well as some unfinished pieces not published until after his death.  In his signature spare prose, the descriptions range from meditative about the process of catching a trout or setting up camp, to suspenseful in “The Killers,” about an aged prizefighter waiting for death.  Hemingway wrote these beautiful stories over his entire lifetime, never in any particular order, but this edition puts them in the sequential order of Nick’s life for the first time, capturing the very essence of the Michigan outdoors in summer.
The peaceful serenity of summer is brutally interrupted by a violent crime in native Michigander Judith Guest’s The Tarnished Eye: a Novel of Suspense.  It’s based on a true-crime Michigan murder that claimed an entire metro Detroit family in the late 1960s, a crime which is still unsolved to this day.  A small town sheriff, in the fictional town of Blessed, tries to solve the senseless execution-style mass murder of the well-to-do Norbois family in their summer home, while also dealing with his own personal and tragic past.  Exclusive summer cottages never seemed so remote and lonely as they do in this novel.  Guest is perhaps best known for her classic, Ordinary People.
Finally, in Jim Harrison’s True North, we enter the Upper Peninsula, an area of the state that still feels like a completely different country with its wilderness-like setting of dense evergreen woods, sparsely populated few and far-between small towns, empty two-lane highways, and vast remoteness as it is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the tolled, five mile, mighty Mackinac Bridge.  In this sprawling family saga, David Burkett must come to terms with the destruction of the beautiful and wild land taking place around him that is the direct consequence of his family’s wealth and livelihood in the lucrative timber business.  Harrison, best known for Legends of the Fall fame, is also Michigan native who spent his childhood roaming the woods of northern Michigan.

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