From the Publisher
“Relentlessly observant, miraculously expressive, these are stories that see through the mirrored surface into a hidden yet strangely intimate world.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Mr. Slouka is an important writer, and [Lost Lake] is, quite simply, wonderful.” –Dallas Morning News
“The range of emotion and experience in Lost Lake is panoramic, the sense of mystery as deep as the lake itself.” –The Commercial Appeal
“So rich and affecting that it incorporates all kinds of influences while remaining singular and quite unforgettable.” –Outside
There is, in Mark Slouka's beautiful and mysterious fiction, a dreamlike sense of life in death and death in life. The dozen brief stories and sketches...are darkly vivid, inexplicably captivating....In Slouka's hands, unremarkable actions acquire a magical aura. -- New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"A particular forty acres of water," a peaceful, manmade lake not far outside New York City, connects these 12 poignant short stories and the vital, multigenerational cast of characters inhabiting them. A narrator named Mostovsky (we never learn his given name), the son of Czech immigrants now grown into a husband and father himself, pensively plumbs his boyhood memoriesreal and apocryphal. The often lyrical pieces not only portray his experiences fishing and exploring but also recall tales he heard or imagined about the lake's creation near the start of the century, about war, intrigue and bloodshed back in his family's homeland. Others deal with the subtle dynamics among his neighbors and with private thoughts he could not have understood as they were happening. Slouka's prose is elegant and rich in unexpected metaphor as he explores the varying forms and faces of expatriation. He finds patterns and forces of nature as evident in the lives and history of the people around him as in the wind, trees, fish, animals and insects of the lake. One of these stories, "The Woodcarver's Tale," won a 1997 Harper's National Magazine Award in Fiction. It is the harbinger of what should be an impressive career.
This lyrical and beautifully written collection of short fiction is a complex meditation on memory, loss, and the meanings we create from our family histories. The narrator of these stories is a middle-aged man whose experiences as a young boy at his family's vacation cabin on a small, idyllic lake have clearly been among the most important of his life. The narrator's memories are richly and appealingly nostalgic, but what is perhaps most noteworthy about this collection is the way Slouka balances this nostalgia with insightful reflections about the more problematic aspects of his narrator's life experiences. "Jumping Johnny," for example, is a poignant, bittersweet story about the narrator's relationship with his father, who has just had a heart attack. The narrator's encounter with his father in the hospital inspires a surge of musings, emotions, and memories of his father at the lake that are deeply moving and exquisitely rendered. Recommended for both public and academic libraries. Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Commmunity-Technical Coll., Manchester, CT
A first collection of 12 stories, all of them subtle and all about fishing, linked also by their setting in upstate New York and their recurring characters. Slouka is also the author of a thoughtful nonfiction critique of the digital revolution ("War of the Worlds", 1995). First is the longish "The Shape of Water," a precise reminiscence about a wharf, a lake, particular people, and a great fish the narrator's father caughtþa lyrical memory of childhood. But the narrator, looking back from adulthood, has to admit that he may have imagined the event out of longing for just such a perfect day. After so poetic a beginning, the earthy "Genesis," about the flamboyant Simon Colby, who created the lake, is a delight. Colby, after losing an arm in the Spanish-American War, walks home from Georgia simply to see the country. When he arrives, he marches into a dance, picks out the prettiest girl, and proposes. Then he successfully promotes the lake and prospers on the tourist trade. In the beautiful, simple "Equinox," the death of a lineman trying to restore power is balanced by the rescue of a child who might have drowned, and yet in neither case, Slouka suggests, is fate anything but random. Finally, the narrator of "The Shape of Water" returns to the lake after an absence of many years and catches a great fish. Going off to attend a crisis, he leaves it on a trotline. When at last he returns, it's to find that some other lake animal has devoured his catch. Thus, Slouka returns to the themes of his dreamy beginning: memory dissolves into the shape of water, life is in some way always a mystery, some part of it "forever unknown to us." Nice. Slouka may be even too subtle, however, andhe will suffer from the inevitable comparison with Norman MacLean's "A River Runs Through It", which is also about memory, loss, and, of course, fishing.
Read an Excerpt
He'd start out every evening just after dinner, moving the heavy wooden boat slowly east along the shoreline with a single oar he pulled out of the oarlock and moved in small, effortless circles with his left arm, locked and strong. I'd never seen a fly fisherman before. I'd watch the line loop the air in a long, tight script, the rod curved with its weight, his right arm lifting it sharp behind his head, letting it rise and stretch, then sending it out to the open spots between carpets of weed, the black pockets between deadfalls, the rectangles of shade under sagging docks.
He was old--seventy, maybe more--tall and straight, with gray hair cut close to his head and a face that always seemed to be listening to something difficult to make out but not unexpected. Everything about him--the patient set of his mouth, his eyes, the way he'd put down the oar and loop the line between the thumb and little finger of his left hand--was slow and deliberate and perfect and in such complete and incontrovertible contrast to the frenzied chaos of tangled lines and snagged lures that marked my hours on the water that I watched him as if mesmerized, sensing something special and mysterious, determined to learn whatever secret there was to know.
"Hey, mister, what're you using for bait," I'd say with the callow familiarity of youth, automatically using the generic term we had for anything tied to the end of a line. And he'd always answer the same way: "I'm not using bait, son, I'm using a lure." He'd show me a little homemade popper with a spooned-out face And dry fly hackle tied around the shank of the hook He seemed to have five or six of these and nothing else. I never saw him change lures. I never saw him fish with anything else.
It didn't matter to me that a good part of the time he didn't catch a thing. It certainly didn't seem to matter to him. On good days he'd put two fish on a simple rope stringer he'd hang from the steel brace below the oarlock. If he caught more, he'd let them go, slipping out the single hook, holding them gently upright under the water till the lactic acid wore off and the gills started to pump and they swam slowly off his hand, then flashed into the dark. He kept nothing under a foot long, nothing much bigger.
I was there the time he dropped the floating lure beside a small finger of branch sticking out over the surface. The instant it smacked down like some fat, wind-spun moth, the water beneath and around it shifted almost imperceptibly. He twitched it and the water boiled briefly and was still. I watched from thirty feet away--we had just passed. He waited, until I thought fo sure whatever it was had gone, then twitched it again and the lure disappeared in a great splash and his rod was bent deep to the water. He brought it to the boat, slowly, carefully, a great, thrashing slab of a fish that broke the water only once, wallowed heavily, then went deep. I watched him slip the hook, as he did with all the others. He held it up for my benefit.
"He's huge," I said, barely breathing.
"A good fish," he agreed. "A pretty fish." He laid it belly-down on his palm in the water. It lay fanning quietly, then swam off.
It didn't take long for me to start despising my heavy fiberglass rods and the bulky reels and the arsenal of treble-hooked lures, each in their little compartment in the tackle box I lugged on and off the boat each day like some water-bound traveling salesman. I begged a cheap fiberglass fly rod for Christmas and by May I was back, whipping at the water, flinging mad loops around my ears, wrenching at the rod to loosen the poppers I invariably sank into the branches of lakeside trees just beyond my reach ... By June I'd given up, returning to my Mitchell reel and the old familiar lures. That fall I started high school. I didn't pick up a fly rod again until after our first son was born.
He and his wife didn't come back to the lake that summer, or any other. Summer rentals were like that sometimes. It was years before I thought I understood the rough poetry of the man, the expression on his face when he looked across that small water--mildly amused, almost wry--as though to say, "It's not quite the way I planned it, not quite where I thought I'd be, but good enough, it'll do ..." and began to suspect that living appropriately sometimes requires a drawing back, a slow renunciation of much that mattered, once.