In the Lake of the Woods (1994) is a bizarre, morally nebulous, flashback-laden tale of a troubled Vietnam veteran and failed politician whose marriage is on shaky ground. The POV character and his wife retreat to Minnesota's "Northwest Angle" (that tab that sticks up into Canada), a wilderness area taken up largely by the labyrinthine Lake of the Woods. The couple plan to spend two weeks in an isolated cabin there, attempting to recover from a devastating election loss and salvage their strained relationship.
Then the wife disappears, quite suddenly and mysteriously. Of course, searches and investigations ensue. But they yield nothing. And yet, a great deal. Maybe. Or maybe not.
I can't possibly condense this novel in any sensible way. It's a missing-person case wrapped in personal history wrapped in a psycho-emotional tangle, a Gordian knot that seems impossible to undo. It's reality and recalled reality, fantasy and horror. It sure as hell has no happy ending; in fact, it doesn't even have a resolution. Unsympathetic characters, meet your open end.
Still, the book has haunted me since I read it. So I've kind of been itching to read it again.
I thought I'd see what the "reviewers" on Amazon had to say, since there were no Amazon reviewers when I first read this novel and my recollection of it is more like an echo in the heart than a set of details stored in the brain. I figured they would help me decide whether or not to give the book a second go.
In the Lake of the Woods mostly got high marks. But there were thirty-five people who rated it from 1 to 3 and were intensely dissatisfied.
I was fascinated by this disparity and what it says about the nature of human perception, so I kept plowing through the negative comments (which, I figured, might save me some money). More than one person hated the characters. Another, the writing style. Someone else said it suffered from "very poor plotting."
Here are some of the most scathing comments: "Horrible. Simply and utterly horrible;" "I would have rated this no stars but wasn't given the option;" "...I will be throwing the book out;" "rubbish;" "...exhibits no emotional power;" "clumsy in its attempt to be ambiguous and different;" "...piece of garbage ... [The author] should retire;" "In the last several decades, this is the book I am most sorry to have read."
What I ultimately realized was that I wouldn't learn a damned thing by reading any of these assessments. It never ceases to amaze me how two people can view the same thing in such diametrically opposed ways. The clashing perceptions did nothing but confuse me, so I pretty much abandoned all of the reviews and decided to go with my gut instinct.
Yep, guess I'll read it again. Interesting exercise, though.