Nancy at a book signing in August
More than a Summer Camp Read
Mother, daughter, military wife, C. P. A. and first-time author Nancy Kyme has penned a luminous literary non-fiction piece about her experiences at a summer camp on the shores of Lake Michigan in the 1970's. This finely measured, clearly remembered and richly imagined work cycles in a complex recursive arc from the adult Nancy taking her daughter and the daughter's friends to Nancy's reunion at the camp back and forth through time by means of a sophisticated intermittent narrative of the teenaged Nancy who spent seven summers at the camp. All the classic camp story elements are there: the bunks, the cabins, the dining hall, the counselors, lessons and activities of all sorts, the smelly and somewhat brutish boy campers, the awards, encounters with nature, pranks, conflicts between girls (although minor and understated) songs, ceremonies, special trips and a sense of Edenic isolation.
And yet, like the lake at the camp's edge, much more lurks beneath the surface. The first half of the story resonates with elements of myth, romance (in the literary sense), tragedy (loss) and a struggle to create meaning and find peace in the aftermath of a heartfelt tragedy. This is no summer beach read or even a notch or two above a summer beach read: it is a full-on resonant example of the coming of age genre told from a point of mature wisdom. I believe it is destined to become a classic if there is any justice in this world.
Memory Lake, while focusing on the difficult straits of the passage into adulthood and coming to terms with the past, lies close in imagination to Never-Never Land, the planets of Star Wars, , the wizarding world of Harry Potter, Narnia, the emerald towers of the City of Oz and the Louisiana of Steel Magnolias. With its complex but clearly presented structure, characters and setting , the book evokes not only a richly remembered past but also a calm present whose serenity has been gained only by great sacrifice. Well drawn, identifiable characters (whom we like and wish the best for), authentic dialogue, exact and evocative word choice, beautifully detailed description and poetry worked into the prose at every turn of the page create a world apart we have either experienced or wish we could have.
The second part of the story drops into a post-modern recounting of the culmination of the trip to the reunion at the camp and resonant flashbacks to a mythical wounding and its healing aftermath. We also learn the true nature of the informing tragedy of the book . The resulting philosophical and theological insights lift the narrative into the realm of the universal archeytpe while remaining firmly rooted in everyday events and miraculous epiphanies.
With this book, Kyme joins the ranks of authors like Alice Sebold, A. S. Byatt, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro, Laurie Colwin and Anne Tyler, who write about ordinary life and its implications and who illuminate matters of the heart with skill, insight and subtlety. I pray that she has many, many more stories in her heart and mind for all of us who need to remember, to hope, to be unafraid, to move on and to love.
I am a rapid reader, and normally I could have read the 400-plus pages of a book like this in two days at the least, and four days at the most. This book took me three weeks of solid reading because I crawled through it. There was so much to see along the way--I don't regret the time I spent reading at all. It was time and effort well spent.