Full disclosure: I read both of Kim Edwards books, The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Lake of Dreams because she was an English professor at the University of Kentucky. Although by the time I arrived at UK, I had already changed my major from English to Telecommunications and therefore never attended her lectures, I bleed blue (as we all know) and fully support a Wildcat when he/she makes it big.
I loved The Memory Keeper's Daughter, but I'm not sure if it was because of the writing or because much of it was set in Lexington and I could identify with the landmarks. It's been many years since I read it so I don't recall much, but I remember liking it and recommending it to others (although it's emotionally difficult to read in certain sections). I wish I could say the same for The Lake of Dreams.
In general, if a book's jacket says anything along the lines of "Susie Jones had it all...the dreamy, doctor boyfriend, a beautiful house on the cape, and a 6-figure income. But then a car bomb brings her world crashing down and all she has left of her dashing beau is a box of mysterious papers. This story of survival, independence and renewal will leave you wanting more long after the last page is turned"...I will immediately start looking for a new book. Unless you're reading about Excel spreadsheet development, every book is about survival and renewal on some level. If there wasn't conflict, there wouldn't be a plot and if there's no growth from that conflict, there wouldn't be a conclusion. But having the perfect life and then having to adjust expectations when everything suddenly disappears is excessively tired in today's literature (and I'm looking at you, chick lit). The only time I will concede to it is when it's side-splitting hysterical, like Jen Lancaster's Bitter is the New Black. Yes, she had everything and yes, she lost everything, but it's how she wrote about the process that made it enjoyable. It's the first time I ever remember laughing aloud (not lol'ing) while reading.
The Lake of Dreams begins with the introduction of Lucy Jarrett, a late 20's hydrologist who lives in Japan with her boyfriend, who she would very much like to make her husband. When her mother takes a fall in her hometown of Lake of Dreams, she fears it could be "the end" and decides to rush home to care for her. It's agreed that Lucy's boyfriend, Yoshi, will follow shortly after a business trip. When Lucy arrives, there is a lot of "everything had changed" and "Wow, you must be so important, you live in Japan," as proclaimed by childhood friends who still lived there...the typical small town response to anyone who travels further than the state line. As Lucy begins to settle into her mom's house, she finds a window seat filled with old family documents and pictures. She immediately begins to unravel the mystery of the papers...the who, when, where, why...and in the process uncovers a secretive past involving her father (who is deceased) and his father.
There is an excellent book review of The Lake of Dreams written here and it's nearly impossible for me to expand or improve upon it. But in a nutshell, there were (for me) only 2 likeable characters in the entire novel: her dead father and her ex-boyfriend who predictably pops up from her past, more successful and handsome than she ever remembers. Edwards builds Lucy's character in about 2 chapters and the entire experience feels rushed. Lucy comes across as needy and obsessively driven to solve the puzzle of her family's past. Combine that with her sudden (and obnoxiously predictable) realizations that serve to move the story forward, and you have a main character who is tolerable at best.
The supporting characters are under-developed, so they were less annoying. It's hard to be bothered by what is unwritten. Lucy's mom, who is chastised by Lucy for moving forward after her husband's death, is actually relatable to the rest of us. She has a boyfriend and enjoys summer evenings with him and a bottle of wine on the front porch. I can actually see myself hanging out with her mom. Lucy's boyfriend, Yoshi, is simply in the story so that she can relay truths she has uncovered and the way she has pieced it all together. He physically arrives on the scene late in the novel and is finally partially developed in the last few chapters. I would have enjoying knowing Yoshi a little bit better. And Lucy's uncle (her father's brother) and cousin are described in a way (and behave in a way) that would be unsavory to anyone. They have no redeeming characteristics. For me, that's just not realistic. Everyone has something that makes them likeable. Even if it's fleeting.
As for the writing, she sometimes fulfilled my desire for expressive, descriptive language. I hated the Twilight books because there was no description of the scent of blood or the sound of a howl. It was simply, "she smelled delicious"...well, so does an apple pie. Did Bella smell like an apple pie? I want a writer to take me there, even if I'm stuck in the dentist lobby with phones ringing and the high-pitch of a drill echoing in the hallway. Sometimes I was there with her, running my hand over brilliant piece of stained glass...and sometimes I was sitting in the dentist lobby, reading about the ripples on the lake and how they...rippled. Edwards is also guilty (which is pointed out by the other review and I had missed - probably because I do the same thing) of describing things in three's. I do everything in three's. I decorate in three's, design jewelry in three's, and (obviously) describe in three's. It's effective occassionally, but can be overwhelming and exhausting. I didn't realize her tactic at the time, I just knew that I was skimming a lot. I hate skimming anything that is not a NY Times article or a textbook. When I read her review, I had my own ah-ha moment.
Lastly, Edwards relies heavily on over-used metaphors...water and rebirth, locks and keys. I would expect more from an English professor, especially a UK English professor. I can only suggest that she sit down with a few Pat Conroy books to see how it should be done.
I can only recommend this as an easy beach read...something to cruise through while you have one eye on the book and one eye on your child building sandcastles. I've constructed my own version of Lake of Dreams in my head and it's really quite lovely. The lake is more like an ocean and the weathered Cape Cod-style homes surround a peaceful, quaint downtown, filled with independently-owned bookstores, coffee shops, and antique markets. My one take-away from the book is that image and how it can restore me to calm when I conjure it up.