Review: LAKE COUNTRY by Sean Doolitle

LakeCountryIn Minneapolis it is the fifth anniversary of the death of college student Becky Morse. She was killed by Wade Benson, a local architect who had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car one night and strayed into her lane of the highway. As there was no alcohol involved and because, as the police explain it “you can’t measure tired”, Benson receives what some think of as a light sentence: five years’ probation during which he must spend 48 hours in prison to coincide with each anniversary of the accident. Daryl Potter, an ex-soldier who served with Becky’s brother, is one of those who thinks Benson got off way too lightly and decides to take revenge.

I wouldn’t have picked this book up based on its blurb alone but thanks to friends with good taste I sought it out and am delighted to have done so. In what is becoming something of a theme of my reading this year it is a dark tale with a strong vein of black humour to lift it beyond the maudlin. The story is one one level utter chaos with kidnappings, minor gangsters and ornery folks a-plenty  but the author’s confidence in controlling it all was never in doubt. It takes real skill to hide this kind of precision plotting until the final pages.

LAKE COUNTRY’s characters are fully formed to the point I can easily imagine conversations I would have if I encountered them (in my head these take place with me doing an undoubtedly poor impersonation of Frances McDromand’s performance from Fargo). When Mike Barlow realises his friend Daryl might have done something horribly worrying he is torn between knowing he should tell the police and feeling obligated not to after their shared combat experiences. This conflict is depicted so realistically and so touchingly that I might have wept but for the fact I was probably chuckling at the same time. Other characters too are much more than what they might first appear to be. Maya Lamb, for example, is a local reporter at the top of her game when she starts to question her own role in the kind of “meeting people on the worst day of their lives” stories she is known for and her mid-novel epiphany and its aftermath are a treat to watch unfold.

Ultimately this is a story in which almost everyone is trying to the right thing almost all of the time and still bad things happen to a lot of them anyway. Which is, I suppose, pretty close to a perfect summary of life (and the best of noir fiction). LAKE COUNTRY has it all: the right length, the right humour, the right sensitivity for its troubled but not broken characters. Highly recommended.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Bantam Books [2012]
ISBN/ASIN 9780345533920
Length 322 pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone

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6 Responses to Review: LAKE COUNTRY by Sean Doolitle

  1. Col says:

    One more for Mount TBR….I read his first 4 or 5 books years ago and loved them, but he sort of slipped from my radar since then.

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  2. Sarah says:

    Sounds like a great book Bernadette. Actually, in the UK we do ‘measure tired’. There are signs all over the place warning you not to drive if tired and now if you have an accident and it is proved you fell asleep at the wheel you’re up for a manslaughter charge if someone dies. It’s a fairly new thing and I’m not sure if it has been tested in the courts yet.

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  3. Bernadette – This does sound like a good read, and I know what you mean about dark with a thread of black humour. I’ve been reading my share of books like that lately too. Thanks for the recommendation. Oh, and thanks for the wonderful memories of Fargo and the mental image of Frances McDormand as Marge Gundersen.

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  4. Barbara says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I worry when I rave about a book – so often when someone takes my advice it ends in tears.

    I have loved everything Sean Doolittle has written and yet he’s one of those excellent writers who seems to be under the radar. He has a real soft spot for people who make lousy decisions for mixed-up (yet totally plausible) reasons. He’s really good at seeing complexity in people who are often dismissed as simple-minded losers, and while he’s pretty funny, it’s not at the expense of his characters.

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