When their father dies as his train plummets off the town bridge into the lake, Molly (16), Helen (15), and Sylvie (13) are left in the care of their mother. The girls cluster around the quiet woman helping her to perform her meticulous housekeeping rituals. Sheets are starched, bread is baked, roses are gathered into bowls. These girls are loved, but the habits of daily housework seem to limit the need for speech. And they are a bright, bookish family, not given to mixing much in the town. Their life moves as quietly as the waters of the lake which had folded themselves over the train.
This seeming tranquillity is torn apart in the space of a year when, one by one, the three sisters flee to the city.
Several years after leaving, Helen returns at a time when she knows her mother will not be home. She deposits her daughters, Ruth and Lucille, before driving off to end her own life in the lake.
Ruth, the narrator, recounts what follows. A sequence of eccentric family members arrive to raise the two girls – a task which had not been on anyone’s life’s plan. The often-unsupervised sisters seem to become more connected to the lake and its surrounding forest than to the town and its pious, conventional inhabitants. As I read on, my tension grew and I became more and more concerned for their welfare.
This book, a first novel, is written in prose as crisp and fresh as the glacial waters it describes. It is a haunting achievement, and a favourite of many who enjoy the wilderness genre.