Lost Girl of the Lake

Joe McKinney and Michael McCarty

Bad Moon Books and Evil Jester Press

2012 (print), 2013 (eBook)

$18.95 (print), $3.79 (eBook)

Reviewed by Michael R. Collings 

Lost Girl of the Lake is an almost perfectly textured book.

Generally, I try not to point overtly to technique in reviewing, since the purpose of a story is not to showcase an author’s skill (or in this case the two authors’ skill) but rather to tell a story. If admiration of technique distracts too strongly from the underlying narrative, then perhaps the writer(s) choose to concentrate on the wrong thing.

In the case of Lost Girl of the Lake, however, the texture—the language, the characterization through that language, the arrangement of words on the page to complete the authors’ vision of the story—is so integral to the story that to alter one of the two elements would be to destroy the other.

From the first page, McKinney and McCarty create an ideal tone for a coming-of-age story that attempts—and ultimately produces—something much more. They masterfully manipulate the world-weary, experienced voice of a seventy-five-year-old man struggling to recapture, in his own memory if nowhere else, a seminal moment in his life, understanding as he does so how much that moment helped determine who he has become; and the naïve, wide-eyed voice of his fifteen-year-old self in the throes of discovery…discovery of sex and female beauty, of his unity with and simultaneously increasing isolation from his parents, of the encroaching hand of the past upon the present.

The story itself is deceptively simple. In August, 1961, young Mark Gaitlin is on vacation with his parents and his sister, spending two weeks at an exclusive resort to celebrate—along with most of Houston’s upper-crust—the annual arrival of the Great Southern White butterfly (a not incidental metaphor for Mark’s increasing awareness of his own privileged status as a scion of a wealthy white attorney). As they travel toward Lake Livingston, they pass the blackened, crumbled remains of a long-deserted village, which Mark’s father identifies as Gaitlinville, founded by Mark’s family generations before.

At the lake, bored out of his mind at the first official event, a formal dance, Mark leaves the clubhouse, walks out to the dock, and sees a girl about his own age swimming in the lake…naked. Stunned, speechless, but drawn irrevocably to the sight, he approaches, speaks to her, and, at her invitation, joins her in a bit of skinny-dipping. When he becomes too forward, she abruptly leaves.

Oh, and as he stumbles back to the family’s cabin, he nearly steps on a four-foot-long copperhead.

The rest of the story—at the level of basic plot—concerns Marks increasing obsession with the girl, his burgeoning sense of self (including his attempts at keeping secrets from his parents), and his growing involvement, first in dreams and then in life, with the ruins of Gaitlinville. Twining through his experiences are recurrent images of nascent sexuality, fleeting glimpses of the girl in the lake, and serpents…long, thick, ugly, deadly copperheads.

Even though Lost Girl of the Lake reads quickly and easily—fluidly—by the end it has become much more than just another coming-of-age story. It resonates on multiple levels, not only because so much of it is outright supernatural horror but also because much of it is precisely, honestly human. Mark’s experiences and his decisions concerning them remain unbelievable on one hand and eminently acceptable on the other. Metaphor and symbol (sometimes obvious, sometimes not) shift seamlessly with reality, so that by the end, the story has created an almost ephemeral, not quite tangible vision of a life wholly lived superimposed over a life just begun…which, I think, is the essence of the narrative.

There are so many more elements of the story that might be discussed, but….

In my college speech course, the professor took an outline for the next week’s speech from a student, put it under the opaque projector for a couple of minutes, then pulled it out and literally threw it back at the student. “I need another one,” she said. “I can’t teach from perfection. Someone give me one that has mistakes.”

That’s rather how I feel about Lost Girl of the Lake; the more I write, the more convinced I become that I am doing it a disservice. So instead of adding to my verbiage, let me just suggest…Read it. It won’t disappoint.

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