The Lake of Dead Languages

( 103 )

Overview

“A GOTHIC AND ELEGANT PAGE-TURNER.”
–The Boston Globe

Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. The week before her graduation, in that sheltered wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden in the depths of Heart Lake for more than two decades. Now ...
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Lake of Dead Languages

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Overview

“A GOTHIC AND ELEGANT PAGE-TURNER.”
–The Boston Globe

Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. The week before her graduation, in that sheltered wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden in the depths of Heart Lake for more than two decades. Now Jane has returned to the school as a Latin teacher, recently separated and hoping to make a fresh start with her young daughter. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories. And young, troubled girls are beginning to die again–as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface. . . .
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or a good film noir . . . Jane’s low-key narration has just the right tone to keep readers hooked.”
People (Page-turner of the week)

“The strength of The Lake of Dead Languages is a silken prose that lures the reader into Goodman’s . . . story of murder, suicide . . . revenge, and madness.”
–The Washington Post Book World

“PART SUSPENSE, PART COMING-OF-AGE, AND ALL-ENTHRALLING . . . A book that needs the roar of a fire to ward off its psychic chill.”
–The Denver Post
Publishers Weekly
Goodman debuts strongly with this intricately plotted and captivating tale of buried secrets. When Jane Hudson returns to her high school alma mater, the Heart Lake School for Girls, as a Latin teacher, tragic events of the past begin to resurface. Twenty years earlier at Heart Lake, roommates Jane, Lucy and Deirdre were inseparable. They studied the classics together under the tutelage of the mesmerizing Helen Chambers, sneaking out for midnight skinny dipping in the lake and meeting Lucy's brother, Matt, in the sheltered woods of the campus. Their clandestine friendship ended in the winter of senior year, amid scandal and suicide. Only Jane knows the truth behind the mystery of Matt and the other girls' deaths and now, two decades later, the secret comes back to haunt her: someone has found her missing journal, written during that tragic time, and begins a macabre re-enactment of the past. When one of Jane's troubled young students is found dead in the frigid waters of Heart Lake, an apparent suicide, the school board suspects Jane is the harmful influence. The dark and shocking secrets of Jane's adolescence, revealed gradually in flashbacks, progressively absorb the reader until the final disquieting denouement. Sexual rites, pagan rituals and forbidden love all come together in this deft exploration of youthful innocence and guilt. Goodman weaves ancient mythology with modern legend into a chilling and evocative story of deception and complicity. (Jan. 2) Forecast: Marketing plans include a major national ad campaign and a five-city author tour. Though a bit less sophisticated than Donna Tartt's The Secret History, the novel will appeal to the same audience. The beautifully spookycover image of a female figure standing on the surface of a moonlit lake will intrigue browsers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When Jane returns to teach at the Heart Lake School, where three friends committed suicide, she encounters more death and pages from a missing journal she kept at the time. A highly touted first novel. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A woman returns to the boarding school where her roommates committed suicide 20 years earlier and faces a rash of new deaths: a gothic, unconvincing debut replete with incest, homoeroticism, and murder. Jane Hudson, the recently divorced mother of a small daughter, has taken a job teaching Latin at Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks. Readers will be immediately struck by the manufactured logic of such a return, given Jane's history. As a scholarship student, she had slavishly adored her roommate Lucy and Lucy's brother Matt. So had Jane's other roommate Deirdre. At the same time, the girls fell under the sway of their Latin teacher. Domina Chambers showed a marked and unnatural favoritism toward Lucy, whose mother had been her close friend until an untimely pregnancy during college. At the end of Jane's senior year, Deirdre committed suicide, soon followed by Lucy and Matt, who drowned intertwined. Chambers was blamed as a bad influence and fired. Only Jane knew, or thought she knew, the real reasons for the suicides; she recorded her speculations in a private journal. Soon after her return to Heart Lake, incriminating pages of that long-lost journal start showing up, and it's not long until Jane's favorite student ends up in the hospital after an apparent suicide attempt. Then another student turns up dead. While the school psychologist who throws blame upon Jane is a menacing presence from her first introduction, the police investigator turns out to be Lucy and Matt's cousin, who had participated long ago in certain orgiastic rites with Jane and her friends. When Jane begins to put together the pieces of both sets of suicides, her own life is endangered even as romanticsparks kindle. Trash, despite the highfalutin Latin and classic references-and not very sexy trash at that. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345450890
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 264,247
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Carol Goodman’s work has appeared in such journals as The Greensboro Review, Literal Latté, The Midwest Quarterly, and Other Voices. After graduation from Vassar College, where she majored in Latin, she taught Latin for several years in Austin, Texas. She then received an M.F.A. in fiction from the New School University, studying under Rick Moody, Francine Prose, David Gates, Amy Hempel, and Peter Carey. Goodman currently teaches writing and works as a writer-in-residence for Teachers & Writers. She lives in Long Island.
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Read an Excerpt

I have been told to make the latin curriculum relevant to the lives of my students. I am finding, though, that my advanced girls at Heart Lake like Latin precisely because it has no relevance to their lives. They like nothing better than a new, difficult declension to memorize. They write the noun endings on their palms in blue ballpoint ink and chant the declensions, “Puella, puellae, puellae, puellam, puella . . .” like novices counting their rosaries.

When it comes time for a test they line up at the washroom to scrub down. I lean against the cool tile wall watching them as the washbasins fill with pale blue foam and the archaic words run down the drains. When they offer to show me the undersides of their wrists for traces of letters I am unsure if I should look. If I look, am I showing that I don’t trust them? If I don’t look, will they think I am naive? When they put their upturned hands in mine—so light-boned and delicate—it is as if a fledgling has alighted in my lap. I am afraid to move.

In class I see only the tops of their hands—the black nail polish and silver skull rings. One girl even has a tattoo on the top of her right hand—an intricate blue pattern that she tells me is a Celtic knot. Now I look at the warm, pink flesh—their fingertips are tender and whorled from immersion in water, the scent of soap rises like incense. Three of the girls have scratched the inside of their wrists with pins or razors. The lines are fainter than the lifelines that crease their palms. I want to trace their scars with my fingertips and ask them why, but instead I squeeze their hands and tell them to go on into class. “Bona fortuna,” I say. “Good luck on the test.”

When I first came back to Heart Lake I was surprised at the new girls, but I soon realized that since my own time here the school has become a sort of last resort for a certain kind of girl. I have learned that even though the Heart Lake School for Girls still looks like a prestigious boarding school, it is not. It is really a place for girls who have already been kicked out of two or three of the really good schools. A place for girls whose parents have grown sick of drama, sick of blood on the bathroom floor, sick of the policeman at the door.

Athena (her real name is Ellen Craven, but I have come to think of the girls by the classical names they’ve chosen for class) is the last to finish washing. She has asked for extra credit, for more declensions and verb conjugations to learn, so she is up to her elbows in blue ink. She holds out her forearms for me to see and there is no way to avoid looking at the scar on her right arm that starts at the base of her palm and snakes up to the crook of her elbow. She sees me wince.

Athena shrugs. “It was a stupid thing to do,” she says. “I was all messed up over this boy last year, you know?”

I try to remember caring that much for a boy—I almost see a face—but it’s like trying to remember labor pains, you remember the symptoms of pain—the blurred vision, the way your mind moves in an ever-tightening circle around a nucleus so dense gravity itself seems to bend toward it—but not the pain itself.

“That’s why my aunt sent me to an all girls school,” Athena continues. “So I wouldn’t get so caught up with boys again. Like my mother goes to this place upstate when she needs to dry out—you know, get away from booze and pills? So, I’m here drying out from boys.”

I look up from her hands to her pale face—a paleness accentuated by her hair, which is dyed a blue-black that matches the circles under her eyes. I think I hear tears in her voice, but instead she is laughing. Before I can help myself I laugh, too. Then I turn away from her and yank paper towels from the dispenser so she can dry her arms.

I let the girls out early after the test. They whoop with delight and crowd the doorway. I am not insulted. This is part of the game we play. They like it when I’m strict. Up to a point. They like that the class is hard. They like me, I think. At first I flattered myself that it was because I understood them, but then one day I retrieved a note left on the floor.

“What do you think of her?” one girl had written.

“Let’s go easy on her,” another, later I identified the handwriting as Athena’s, had answered.

I realized then that the girls’ goodwill did not come from anything I had said or done. It came because they knew, with the uncanny instinct of teenagers, that I must have messed up as badly as they had to end up here.

Today they leave shaking the cramp out of their hands and comparing answers from the test. Vesta—the thin, studious one, the one who tries the hardest—holds the textbook open to read out the declension and conjugation endings. There are moans from some, little cries of triumph from others. Octavia and Flavia, the two Vietnamese sisters who are counting on classics scholarships to college, nod at each answer with the calm assurance of hard studiers. If I listened carefully I wouldn’t have to mark the tests at all to know what grades to give, but I let the sounds of sorrow and glee blur together. I can hear them all the way down the hall until Myra Todd opens her door and tells them they’re disturbing her biology lab.

I hear another door open and one of my girls calls out, “Hello, Miss Marshmallow.” Then I hear a high nervous laugh which I recognize as that of Gwendoline Marsh, the English teacher. It won’t be Gwen, though, who complains; it’s Myra I’ll catch hell from later for letting them out before the bell. I don’t care. It’s worth it for the quiet that settles now over my empty classroom, for the minutes I’ll have before my next class.

I turn my chair around so that I face the window. On the lawn in front of the mansion I see my girls collapsed in a lopsided circle. From here their dark clothing and dyed hair—Athena’s blue-black, Aphrodite’s bleached blond, and Vesta’s lavender red, which is the same shade as the nylon hair on my daughter’s Little Mermaid doll—make them look like hybrid flowers bred into unnatural shades. Black dahlias and tulips. Flowers the bruised color of dead skin.

Past where the girls sit, Heart Lake lies blue-green and still in its glacial cradle of limestone. The water on this side of the lake is so bright it hurts my eyes. I rest them on the dark eastern end of the lake, where the pine tree shadows stain the water black. Then I pick my homework folder up off my desk and add the assignments I’ve collected today, sorting each girl’s new assignment with older work (as usual, I’m about a week behind in my grading). They’re easy to sort because almost all the girls use different kinds of paper that I’ve come to recognize as each girl’s distinctive trademark: lavender stationery for Vesta, the long yellow legal-size sheets for Aphrodite, lined paper with ragged edges which Athena tears from her black-and-white notebooks.

Sometimes the page Athena gives me has something else written on the reverse side. A few lines at the top that look to be the end of a diary entry. I know from the scraps I’ve read that she sometimes writes as if addressing a letter to herself and sometimes as if the journal itself were her correspondent. “Don’t forget,” I read in one of these coda. “You don’t need anyone but yourself.” And another time: “I promise I’ll write to you more often, you’re all I have.” Sometimes there is a drawing on the back of her assignment. Half a woman’s face dissolving into a wave. A rainbow sliced in two by a winged razor blade. A heart with a dagger through its middle. Cheap teenage symbolism. They could be pictures from the book I kept when I was her age.

I recognize the paper she uses by its ragged edge where it’s been pulled out of the thread-stitched notebook. If she’s not careful, pages will start to come loose. I know because I used the same sort of book when I was her age, the kind with the black-and-white- marbled covers. When I look down at the page I think I’ve got another piece of her journal, but then I turn it over and see the other side is blank. Athena’s homework is on a separate page at the bottom of the stack and I’ve lost track whether the page I’m holding is one that was just handed in or was already in the folder. I look back at the page I thought was her homework. There is a single line of tiny, cramped writing at the top of it. The ink is so pale that I have to move the paper into the light from the window in order to make it out.

You’re the only one I can ever tell.

I stare at the words so hard that a dim halo forms around them and I have to blink to make the darkness go away. Later I’ll wonder what I recognized first: the words that I wrote in my journal almost twenty years ago, or my own handwriting.

I make the students in my next class recite declen- sions until the sound of the other words in my head is a faint whisper, but as I walk to the dining hall the words reassert themselves in my brain. You’re the only one I can ever tell. Words any teenager might write in her diary. If I hadn’t recognized my own handwriting there would be no cause for alarm. The words could refer to anything, but knowing what they do refer to I can’t help but wonder how someone has gotten hold of my old journal and slipped a page of it into my homework folder. At first I had thought it must be Athena, but then I realized that any of the girls could have handed me the page when she handed in her own assignment. For that matter, since I left the homework folder on my desk overnight and the classrooms are unlocked, anyone might have slipped the page into my homework folder.

I know that that particular page is from the last journal I kept senior year, and that I lost it during the spring semester. Could it have been on the property all this time—hidden under the floorboards in my old dorm room perhaps—and Athena or one of her friends has now found it? The thought of what else is in that journal floods through me and I have to actually stop at the foot of the mansion stairs and lean on the railing for a moment before I can start up the steps.

Girls in plaid skirts and white shirts coming untucked from the blue sweaters tied around their waists stream around me as I make my way up the stairs toward the massive oak doors. The doors were designed to intimidate. They are outside the human scale. The Crevecoeur family, who donated the mansion to the school, also owned the paper mill in the nearby town of Corinth. India Crevecoeur ran a tea and “improvement society” for the female mill workers. I picture those mill girls, in a tight gaggle for warmth as much as for moral support, waiting outside these doors. My own grandmother, who worked at the mill before working as a maid for the Crevecoeurs, might have been among them.

When I won the scholarship to come here I wondered what the Crevecoeurs would have thought about the granddaughter of one of their maids attending their school. I don’t think they would have been amused. In the family portrait that hangs in the Music Room they look like dour, unhappy people. Their ancestors were Huguenots who fled France in the seventeenth century and eventually made their way here to this remote outpost in upstate New York. It must have been a shock to them—this wilderness, the brutal winters, the isolation. The fanlight above the door is plain glass now, but when I went here it was stained glass: a red heart split in two by a green fleur-de-lis-handled dagger and the family motto in yellow: Cor te reducit—The heart leads you back. I’ve always imagined them waiting for some deliverance from this savage place, to France, or God perhaps. But since I have found myself back at Heart Lake—a place I swore I’d never return to—I’ve begun to think the heart in the motto is the lake itself, exerting its own gravitational pull on those who have once lived on its shores and bathed in its icy green water.

•••

The faculty dining room is in the old Music Room. When I went to Heart Lake the scholarship students worked in the kitchen and served the teachers at meals. Some years ago the practice was discontinued as it was considered demeaning to the scholarship students. I never minded though. Nancy Ames, the cook, always gave us a good meal. Roasts and potatoes, creamed vegetables and poached fish. I never ate so well in all my life. She saved us the rolls she baked fresh for every meal. She gave them to us wrapped in thick linen napkins embroidered with the Heart Lake crest, which we were to remember to return. Walking back through the cold dusk—that last year at Heart Lake resides in my memory as one endless winter dusk—I felt the warmth of them in my pocket, like a small animal burrowed for shelter against my body.

Now the school uses paper napkins and the teachers serve themselves from a buffet. Tuna fish salad and packaged bread. Carrot sticks and hard-boiled eggs. What hasn’t changed, though, is the mandatory attendance for all faculty. It was a tenet of India Crevecoeur, Heart Lake’s founder, that the teaching staff be a community. It is an admirable goal, but on days like today I’d give much to be able to take my sandwich out to a rock by the lake with no one but Ovid for company. As I enter the room I give India’s image in the family portrait a resentful look, which she, snug in the bosom of her large family, disdainfully returns.

The only empty seat is next to Myra Todd. I take out a stack of quizzes to grade and hope they will keep her from commenting on third period’s early dismissal. Half the teachers at the long table have a similar stack of paper-clipped pages at which they peck with their red pens in between bites of tuna fish. When I take out mine, though, I see I still have the journal page with my handwriting on the top of the stack. I hurriedly fold it and stick it into the pocket of my plaid wool skirt just as Myra leans across me for the salt shaker. I have to remind myself that she’d have no reason to think anything of those enigmatic words even if she did see them. Unless she’s the one who found my old journal.

I steal a glance at her to see if she’s paying undue attention to my stack of papers, but she is placidly chewing her sandwich and staring into the middle distance. Under the smell of tuna fish and stale coffee I catch her distinctive smell—a whiff of mildew as if she were one of her own science experiments left too long in the supply closet over Christmas break. I’ve always wondered what peculiar health condition or faulty laundry procedure is the cause of this odor, but it’s hardly the kind of thing you could ask a person as prim and proper as Myra. I try to imagine what she would do if she came upon my old journal, and I am pretty sure she’d take it straight to the dean.

I try to imagine what Dean Buehl would make of my old journal. Celeste Buehl was the science teacher when I went to Heart Lake. She was always kind to me when I was her student—and she was more than kind when she gave me this job—but I don’t think that kindness would survive a reading of my senior-year journal.

When she comes in today I notice how much she’s changed in the twenty years since she was my teacher. I remember her as slim and athletic, leading nature hikes through the woods and skating on the lake in winter. Now her broad shoulders are rounded and her short, cropped hair, once dark and springy, looks lifeless and dull. Myra Todd picks the moment of the dean’s entrance to mention third period’s early dismissal.

“Jane,” she says loudly, “your third-period class disturbed my senior lab this morning. We were at a very delicate stage of dissection. Mallory Martin’s hand slipped and she nicked her lab partner with a scalpel.”

I know Mallory Martin by reputation. My girls call her Maleficent. I somehow doubt the incident with the scalpel was an accident.

“I’m sorry, Myra, I’ll tell them to be quieter. They get so keyed up for these exams.”

“The thing to do is give them extra problems when they finish their tests. That way they won’t be so anxious to finish early.” Simon Ross, the math teacher, volunteers this pedagogical advice and resumes scoring a pile of quizzes with a thick red marker. The tips of his fingers are stained red with the marker, and I notice the color has bled onto his sandwich.

“I let the girls write in their journals,” Gwendoline Marsh offers in a small voice. “It helps them to have an outlet and it’s part of their grade.”

“And just how do you grade these journals?” asks Meryl North, the history teacher who already seemed as ancient as her subject when I was a student here. “Do you read their private thoughts?”

“Oh no, I only read the parts they want me to—they circle the parts I’m not supposed to read and mark them private.”

Meryl North makes a sound between a laugh and a choke and Gwendoline’s pale skin reddens. I try to catch Gwen’s eye to give her a nod of encouragement—she is the closest thing to a friend I have here at Heart Lake—but she is resolutely staring down at a worn volume of Emily Dickinson.

“They do seem to be under a lot of stress,” I say, more to cover Gwen’s embarrassment than because I want to open this particular line of conversation. There were two suicide attempts last year. In response, the administration has instituted weekly faculty seminars on adolescent depression and “How to detect the ten warning signs of suicidal behavior.”

“Anyone in particular?” The question comes from Dr. Candace Lockhart. Unlike the rest of us at the table she has no stacks of papers to grade or texts to study for next period. Her fingers are never stained with ink, her exquisitely tailored dove gray suits never tainted with the ugly yellow chalk dust that the rest of us wear like a wasting disease. She’s the school psychologist, an office that did not exist in my day. There is an aura of secrecy surrounding her appointment here. I’ve heard some of the faculty complain that Dean Buehl hired her without going through the proper channels. In other words, without giving the resident faculty a chance to gossip about her credentials. There’s a whiff of jealousy about the complaints, to which I am not immune. The rumor is that she is conducting research for a groundbreaking study on the psychology of adolescent girls. We all suspect that once her research is done she will leave us for private practice, a glamorous lecture circuit with appearances on “Oprah,” or perhaps a tenure-track post at an Ivy League college—some existence more appropriate to her wardrobe. In the meantime, she resides among us with her pale, almost white, hair, blue eyes and thin, ascetic figure, like a lilac point Siamese slumming with drab tabbies.

Poor Gwen, in her faded Indian print jumper and fussily old-fashioned high-necked white blouse, looks especially dowdy in comparison. Although Candace Lockhart and Gwen Marsh are both in their early thirties, the effects of teaching five classes a day, not to mention sponsoring half a dozen clubs, have left their mark on Gwen. Her complexion is muddy, her hair limp and going gray at the roots, her blue eyes washed out and bloodshot. Candace, on the other hand, clearly has time to get her hair done (that platinum blond can’t be entirely natural) and her blue eyes are as clear and cold as lake water.

I am sufficiently unnerved by those blue eyes to make a mistake. Of course, I should say, “No. No one in particular.” But instead I name a name. “Athena . . . I mean Ellen . . . Craven. I noticed today that she has an awful scar on her arm.”

“Well, yes, I know about that of course. That’s old news and not surprising given Ellen’s history.”

I should be glad for her dismissal, but something in the way Dr. Lockhart’s blue eyes glaze over, already looking past me toward whatever illustrious future fate has in store for her, irks me. I am forever thinking I am past such vanities and finding that I am not.

“Some of the pictures she draws on the back of her homework assignments are . . . well . . . somewhat disturbing.”

“You let your girls turn in homework with pictures on the back?” Myra Todd looks up from her stack of papers, appalled, only to meet Dr. Lockhart’s cool look of disdain. Gratified to have someone else silenced by those eyes, I go on. It has occurred to me that this is exactly what I should be doing. My responsibility as Athena’s teacher, as an especially trusted teacher in whom the girl confided, demands that I seek help for her emotional problems. To whom else should I refer those problems than the school psychologist?

“Disembodied eyes with tears turning into razor blades, that kind of thing. I suppose the images aren’t unusual . . .”

I notice that the rest of the table has grown quiet, and it occurs to me that I shouldn’t be talking about my student in front of the entire teaching staff. Dr. Lockhart must think so, too.

“Perhaps you should come see me in my office to talk about Athena. I’m in my office by seven. Why don’t you come in before your first class?” Dr. Lockhart suggests.

She no doubt sees my reluctance to agree to this early appointment—I am thinking of the lake swim I try to take each morning before class—and so she adds this last piece of admonishment.

“It’s crucial we address any preoccupation with death or suicide immediately. These things have a way of turning into trends, as I’m sure you know from your own experience here, Miss Hudson. Don’t you agree, Dean Buehl?”

Dean Buehl sighs. “God forbid that happen again.”

I feel blood rush to my cheeks as if I had been slapped. Any thoughts I had of protesting the early-morning meeting are gone now, and Dr. Lockhart seems to know that. Without waiting for my answer she rises from her chair and adjusts a pale blue shawl over her suit jacket.

“I especially want to know if that Crevecoeur sisters legend . . .” The rest of her words are drowned out by the bell ringing to signal the end of lunch hour and the scraping of chairs being pushed back from the table.

Dr. Lockhart, unencumbered as she is, glides out of the dining room while the rest of us gather books and shoulder heavy canvas bags. Gwen especially seems to list to one side from the weight of her book bag. I ask if she needs some help and she pulls out a thick manila envelope and hands it to me.

“Oh, thank you, Jane, I was going to ask if someone could type these student poems up for the literary magazine. I’d do it but my carpal tunnel syndrome’s acting up.” She lifts up her arms and I see that both forearms are wrapped in ace bandages. All I’d meant to offer was to carry something for her, but what can I say?

I transfer the heavy folder from her bag to mine. Now I’m the one listing to one side as we leave the Music Room, and Gwen, lightened of her load, hurries on ahead to class. I trail behind the rest of the teachers thinking about what the psychologist had said about preoccupation with death and suicidal trends. I picture my students with their skull jewelry and kohl-rimmed eyes.

The nose rings and skull jewelry and purple hair may be new, but this preoccupation with suicide is not. Like many girls’ schools, Heart Lake has its own suicide legend. When I was here the story would be told, usually around the Halloween bonfire at the swimming beach, that the Crevecoeur family lost all three of their daughters in the flu epidemic of 1918. It was said that one night the three girls, all delirious with fever, went down to the lake to quench their fever and drowned there. At this point in the story, someone would point to the three rocks that rose out of the water off the swimming beach and intone solemnly, “Their bodies were never found, but on the next morning three rocks appeared mysteriously in the lake and those rocks have from that day been known as the three sisters.”

One of the seniors would fill in the rest of the details as we younger girls nervously toasted our marshmallows over the bonfire. India Crevecoeur, the girls’ mother, was so heartbroken she could no longer live at Heart Lake, so she turned her home into a girls’ school. From the school’s first year, however, there have been mysterious suicides at Heart Lake. They say that the sound of the lake lapping against the three rocks (here the speaker would pause so we could all listen to the sound of the water restlessly beating against the rocks) beckons girls to take their lives by throwing themselves into the lake. They say that when the lake freezes over the faces of the girls can be seen peering out from beneath the ice. The ice makes a noise like moaning, and that sound, like the lapping of the water, draws girls out onto the lake’s frozen surface, where the sisters wait to drag the unsuspecting skater through the cracks in the ice. And they say that whenever one girl drowns in the lake, two more inevitably follow.

If the legend is still circulating, as Dr. Lockhart fears, there are a few things I could tell my girls. I could tell them that the Crevecoeur family did lose their youngest daughter, Iris, but she didn’t drown. She caught a chill from a mishap during a boating party with her two older sisters and died of the flu in her own bed. I could also tell them that nineteenth-century drawings of the lake show the three rocks, which were called, by early settlers, the three graces. But I know that the harder you try to dispel a legend the more power it gains. It’s like Oedipus trying to avoid his fate and running headlong into it at the crossroads. And once I begin to talk about the legend they might ask if there were any suicides when I went to school here. Then I would either have to lie or tell them that during my senior year both my roommates drowned in the lake.

I might even find myself telling them that since then I have always felt the lake is waiting for the third girl.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Given the trauma she endured there, why does
Jane return to the Heart Lake School for Girls?
Do you judge her options to be as limited as she does? Are there other factors at work in her decision?

2. Jane acknowledges: "I had thought it was all right to marry someone I didn't love, but what
I hadn't counted on was how it felt to share someone I loved with someone I didn't." Discuss the nature of Jane and Mitch's marriage and the impact Olivia's birth had on it.

3. How does motherhood change Jane's life?

4. Discuss Jane's socioeconomic background and its impact on her. Would you agree or disagree that class mobility in the United States takes a toll that is not always acknowledged or discussed?

5. How does Jane's image of herself correspond
(or not) with how others perceive her?

6. Lucy's aunt has a very different perspective on Lucy that contrasts sharply with Jane's worshipful remembrance. Do you think Jane is finally able to see Lucy in a more complicated light by the end of the novel? Why or why not?

7. How would you describe Lucy and how do you understand her actions?

8. Lucy had a magnetism that drew people to her, inspiring conflict and jealousy within her circle. Have you ever had such a friend or been such a friend?

9. Discuss the particular intensity of adolescent friendships and the havoc they can wreak as well as the benefits.

10. Do you think tragedy might have been averted if Lucy had been able to tell Matt the
"something that changes everything," which
Helen Chambers shared with her?

11. Matt's aunt refers to Jane as "Mattie's girl."
What do you think was the true nature of
Matt's feelings toward Jane?

12. Discuss the merits and drawbacks of the popular theories, ascribed to by school psychologist
Candace Lockhart in this novel,
about the crisis of confidence experienced by adolescent girls and its effects.

13. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of single-
sex versus coed schools. Which educational setting do you prefer and why?

14. Why do Jane's students decide to "go easy on her"? What does she think? What do you think?

15. Do you consider Jane a good teacher? What qualities constitute a good teacher?

16. What do you think of Helen Chambers's behavior toward her students, particularly her attitude toward and decisions regarding Lucy?
Was the school's decision to fire Chambers justified? Do you think this decision was based solely on her sexual orientation?

17. Discuss the many secrets finally brought to light in this novel and the corrosive and destructive impact secrets can have on those keeping them and those from whom information is withheld.

18. Jane has lived under a cloud of guilt and remorse since her senior year at Heart Lake. She wonders "if there's any end to this cycle of guilt and retribution." Do you think the truth will set her free?

19. Jane is haunted by a past that has severely compromised her ability to live in the present.
Discuss how people can become trapped by the past and how to make peace with it.

20. What shape do you imagine Jane's life will take after the end of this novel? Do you think she will leave Heart Lake? Should she?

21. Do you think the Heart Lake School will survive its most recent scandal?

22. There are many mysteries to be solved over the course of this novel. How do you read mysteries? Are you content to go along for the ride or determined to unravel the mysteries before the author reveals them? If you are the latter kind of reader,
did the author stump you or did you figure out what was going on in advance?

23. Discuss the structure of this novel as it shifts between the present and the past.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 103 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(58)

4 Star

(23)

3 Star

(16)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 103 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2012

    excellent read!!

    my absolute favorite book of all time. I am a very avid reader, but this one gets me again and again. countless times I have read it, and it never gets old. I recommend this book to anyone reading this review! great read, you wont regret it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 17, 2011

    One of my favorite books

    Lake of Dead Languages is one of my favotite books. And because it is, I have read all of Carol Goodman's other books and liked them just as much. I would recommend her novels to any of my friends.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Best of Goodman's Books

    Of all Carol Goodman's books, this is my favorite. This shape-shifting novel is suspenseful and engaging, while still fitting the hallmarks of a coming-of-age story. If you liked this book, I recommend reading Donna Tartt's The Secret History. It is a more sophisticated, though slower moving, but very intricately woven novel. Follow me on twitter for more books reviews!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2013

    Fantastic

    I came across this novel and have since been a huge fan.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    3 stars

    I really enjoyed this book but I couldn't help but keep questioning the integrity of the main character. The plot was great, if a bit sad, but definitely keeps you reading.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 20, 2012

    A creepy first effort by an author that has several titles avail

    A creepy first effort by an author that has several titles available, but is new to me. I really enjoyed parts of the novel while others dragged a bit. Still, the spookiness will make me pick up a second offering from Ms. Goodman when I get the chance.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 10, 2012

    One of my all time favorite books!!! (:

    One of my all time favorite books!!! (:

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2012

    Good mystery

    Good character story pliot and good mystery idea and good with myths well writing you will love it i fell for teen and twe
    ntyyearsold

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 13, 2011

    Decent Thriller

    Read this book with my bookclub. Our opinion of the novel was split. A few of us loved it but the majority of the club just thought it was alright. I had a hard time getting into the story, in fact it wasn't until the middle of part two, which is about halfway through the book that I was hooked and actually wanted to keep reading. Overall, the plot was intriguing and dark but the end was a bit predictable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 15, 2011

    Enigmas and Revelations

    I first came across this book when browsing through a site dedicated to reviewing recommended works. From the sample read on this site, I was immediately pulled into the altruistic love Jane received from the two people who would change her life forever. It was too good to pass up, and after purchasing the book it took me little over a day to finish.

    Even after the deaths of her three friends during her stay at Heart Lake, Jane Hudson returns as a Latin teacher in hopes of starting anew. When the apparent suicides begin happening again, she is forced to face her past and find the connections between the two sets of scandals, as well as the hidden secrets she never expected to discover.

    It was a mesmerizing read. Carol Goodman has become one of my favorite authors as she flawlessly wove the past and present together into one tantalizing novel you'll find hard to put down.

    The few imperfections are minor, having to do with the unrealistic reactions the characters sometimes display. However, Goodman's alluring style, written in the perspective of Jane herself, can easily conceal those faults, instead attracting readers to the chilling and jaw-dropping storyline.
    Once read, it is not a story one is able to forget about with ease.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    My new favorite author

    I wasn't really expecting much from this book since I'd never heard of this author before, but the she has a way of drawing you into her story. And she writes beautifully.

    The story is about a woman who finds herself going back home to a place she never thought she'd end up at again, whose past there is sad and complicated. When she returns she realizes someone there knows what happened those many years ago and that they have her old journal. Now, her students are dying and her journal pages are being left behind like clues. The killer is playing out the scenes from those many year ago and it's only a matter of time before she's next.

    I felt like i was right there with the characters, experiencing everything with them. I liked how she dragged out the mystery and drama of the story. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for something new to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Secrets Galore

    This novel was chalk full of secrets. The secrets came tumbling out from about midway through right up until the end. The author set up the story well enough that hints were dropped but you were still surprised by most of the outcomes. It makes you wonder how the decisions that you make in the heat of a moment as a teenager can change both your life and the lives of those around you. Do we walk around in our own bubbles, unable to see what is going on, only what we want to see?
    Overall, i enjoyed this book and would recommend it for a rainy day.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 11, 2009

    Original story

    Former Latin students will enjoy turning the pages of this book. The characters are compelling, and I really did want to find out what was going to happen next! The Latin references really add to the whole experience.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    AMAZING

    I read this book about 6 years ago when a friend recommended it. As soon as i started it, i couldnt put it down and it is truly one of the best books ive ever read. I read a lot, and am somewhat critical of books, and this one is just absolutely amazing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2008

    Huanting

    Some element of this novel is remarkably memorable. I read it a few years ago and yet I still find myself thinking about it. The mystery is all wrapped up in the climactic page-turning finale, and yet something is never quite answered for me. I really just don't understand what it was that happened to the Tollers. On a different note, the characters were well thought out. Everyone knows a Lucy someone who is unexplicably a natural born leader. Also, we can all relate to feeling left out in that group of three. Overally, well worth the purchase.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2008

    A reviewer

    I liked the plot, and the characters. I didnt care for so much Latin trying to read the Latin, would cause me to loose my place. It kept you guessing nearly to the end. Just okay for me.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2007

    Keeps you guessing!

    This book will keep you guessing until the end. Carol Goodman did an excellent job of showing details of the story. If you like mystery,suspense and a surprising ending you'll LOVE this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2007

    Not very surprising

    ok, Im not going to lie, I normally despise anything that may have the effect of scaring the beejesus out of me, but this book I was ok with. But maybe that's because as I progressed further and further into the plot I was actually guessing what was going to happen next and being right. I was never surprised when the villian came forth and I never felt truly related to the characters. It's a good read, but I like to be surprised when I read something like this.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2007

    Kept my interest

    Good read that kept my interest. I was able to predict a few things in the book, but that's common when reading a mystery. There are only so many possible suspects in a mystery and I sometimes know the first few pages. This book took me a little longer and the story kept me interested even though I knew the mystery. It was very well written and I liked the Latin element. It also had a supernatural eerieness that I enjoyed. It alternates between the past and present and the author weaves the two with skill.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2007

    Great start, then, unfortunately it's downhill from there..

    Ms Goodman is a gifted writer. Her word pictures of the lake---the moaning, the shifting of the ice, the frigid mists, the swirling snow---I nearly developed hypothermia reading her descriptions. But yikes, the plot! Ms. Goodman's talents are worthy of better subject material. I was absorbed by the writing but by the end of book I could have kicked myself for wasting my time on this silly piece of fiction.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 103 Customer Reviews

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