The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
If you have not heard of the American author Peter Geye you are not alone. His books, Safe from the Sea published a couple of years ago, and The Lighthouse Road published late in 2012, were both published by a small American press. It is the very rare book that finds a wide public audience without the resources of a large publisher to promote the book, to tour the author, and to advertise widely.
I’ve written before about marketing and “manufactured” bestsellers. The big multinational publishers can take a less than wonderful book and turn it into one that hits the bestseller list – and books like Peter Geye’s will go unnoticed – until booksellers and readers discover his novels, realize how very good they are, and a reputation will gradually develop.
His first novel Safe from the Sea is one of my favourite books published recently, and is now followed by an excellent second novel, The Lighthouse Road. There is now doubt that Peter Geye is a terrific writer, he did his MFA at the University of New Orleans, with Joseph Boyden as his teacher. Joseph called Safe from the Sea “a tautly written gem”.
Safe from the Sea is set in our time, and tells the story of a father and son, exploring their estrangement and reconciliation. The father had spent his life on the Great Lakes freighters, and this novel is one that could so easily be a Georgian Bay story, although it is set on the American side of the Great Lakes. The landscape is much our own, as is the history of shipping on the Great Lakes.
This time the new novel, The Lighthouse Road, while still set on the shores of a great lake, takes us into the past. We begin in 1896, with a young woman, recently arrived from Norway to work in the lumber camps. She is about to give birth, to a child she names Odd Einar for his grandfather, who will be at the centre of the novel - it is his story.
We are in Gunflint, on the shores of Lake Superior, a town full of eccentric characters. There are the men who work in the lumber camps –and others who bring alcohol across the lake from Canada. There is Hosea Grimm, a self taught pharmacist and healer – and his so-called daughter, Rebakah.
I was very much reminded of the novels of David Adams Richards, especially Friends of Meagre Fortune, as I read about these characters. This is a town full of people who might be considered misfits, living in a place remote enough from the “civilization” that they can make their own strange way in the world.
Again, this is the story of a man and the water on which he lives. We follow Odd through his childhood and adolescence into the 1920’s when is he is a young man working on the water, building boats, with a desire for independence. From the 1890’s to the 1950’s we are immersed in another time, with a rich cast of fascinating characters we travel through times of great change, completely captivated by The Lighthouse Road.