On Mystic Lake
Kristin Hannah’s latest, her first in hardcover, is definitely more mainstream fiction than genre romance, despite the fact that one of its main components is a strong love story. At its core, it’s the story of self-discovery. It’s a beautifully drawn portrait of a woman going backward before she can go forward, once her world is shattered after her husband utters a single phrase.
On the day she puts her only child on a plane, Annie Colwater’s husband of 19 years tells her he’s leaving her for another woman. Annie’s self-identity is based on being a wife and mother, and now she is neither of those things. With nowhere else to go she returns to Mystic, the small town on the Olympic Peninsula where she grew up, hoping that Blake will call and tell her it’s all been a cruel joke. Fighting against a slide into deep depression, she offers to help look after the small daughter of her first love, Nick, now the town policeman.
Nick has demons of his own to battle. He blames himself for the tragedy that’s engulfed his family, and the lure of the bottle is too strong for him to resist. He was raised on the streets of Seattle by an alcoholic mother; only the sheer will to survive has taken him this far. And now he’s running out of reasons to hang on, until Annie shows up. How these two wounded people rediscover each other and manage to build a fragile shelter for their hearts is a story that will grab your attention and not let go until the last page.
Everything about On Mystic Lake is believable: the characters, the settings, the dialogue. Nick’s six-year-old daughter, Izzy, is particularly well presented. The poor child believes she’s becoming invisible, one finger at a time, and hasn’t spoken in months. Watching Annie draw her out is one of the treats awaiting the reader.
The thing that really bothered me about the story, is something that really bothers me about some real-life women I know: when we first meet her, Annie has no function other than as an adjunct to someone else’s world. I found it hard to like her in the beginning for that reason, and I didn’t respect her at all; I wanted to yell, “Snap out of it!” As she came into her own, however, that went away. When she gets her hair cut (Blake always liked it long), I felt like cheering, “You go, girl!”
Be forewarned, though – the last third of the book is very bittersweet, and while I won’t tell you there is no HEA, let me just say the characters really have to work for it. Annie faces a real surprise, and a heartbreaking decision: will she be the new Annie, self-assured and confident, or the old Annie, who does everything to please everyone but herself? Or is the solution to be found somewhere in the middle? I won’t say any more; read it and find out for yourself.