Best friends fast approaching forty in the small Minnesota town of Flame Lake, Devera and BiDi were recently voted “Least Changed” at their twentieth high school reunion—a label neither one finds very appealing. For each craves a change in her life: Devera desires a break from her humdrum marital routine; BiDi longs to reconnect with her distant fourteen-year-old daughter (the only girl on the high school hockey team), not to mention jump-start a sex drive stuck in neutral. So when Devera’s husband decides to fulfill his longtime dream of opening a nightclub in his basement, Your Oasis on Flame Lake arrives not a moment too soon. Nothing fancy, it’s just a BYOB joint where you can hang out, sing, dance, tell jokes, and be yourself. But then an unexpected crisis throws both families into chaos, forcing them all to take stock of their lives—and learn the power of forgiveness.
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At our twentieth high-school reunion last summer, BiDi and Devera were both voted "Least Changed." They pranced around the stage giggling,
pumping their cheap little trophies in the air like they had won the
Stanley Cup or something.
BiDi did look good, standing on tiptoe in red high-heeled shoes with no backs, her tight little body squeezed into this red leather dress. ("It's leatherlike," she explained later while we stood eating Triscuits and
Colby cheese at the buffet table, "and I sweat three pounds off every time
I wear the thing.")
Devera looks the same in the face--she should, the jars of Noxema she pickles herself in--but you can't tell me her body looks like it did when she was doing back flips on the Rebelettes squad. When she's got her clothes off, you have to wonder: How does skin pucker around a butt like that? When did her breasts take that drop in altitude?
If I asked her, she'd probably say something like, "If you don't like the view, don't look."
The thing is, I do. I'm just curious about gravity's toll is all.
Once we were dancing at King Olaf's Hideway and I said whoa, no more of that shimmying--all that loose flesh is going to pop me in the face. She just about popped me in the face after I said that, but instead she grabbed the car keys right out of my sports-coat pocket and gunned out of the parking lot, the gravel under the wheels flying like confetti. I had to hitch a ride home with Glen Pauley, an insurance agent who likes to talk about his work, as if normal people are fascinated by actuarial tables and annuities.
Devera married me the day after her twenty-first birthday. We both were going to White Falls State, but she had been thinking of transferring her credits to "somewhere exotic"--the Sorbonne or the University of Cairo or
UCLA"--but then her dad, Evan "Fair Shake" Bergdahl, was robbed and pistol-whipped (with a toy gun, but Dad Evan said when you're smacked in the face you can't tell the difference between real and fake). After that,
Devera put her plans of exotic study on "temporary hold" and decided to stay home.
"Always remember," Devera reminds me, holding up two crossed fingers,
"Daddy and I are like this."
I always answer back with my standard joke. "Easy for him, he's not married to you."
They caught the guy who robbed Dad Evan; he was holed up in a shack on
Uncle's Lake, ice-fishing and drinking Champale. They arrested him on a bunch of charges, including assault, robbery, and fishing without a license. They must have tagged him for exceeding the limit, too--Sheriff
Buck told me there were over two dozen northerns and crappies swimming around in pails in that icehouse. At his trial I wanted to ask the guy what he used for bait but Dad Evan would not understand any mingling with the accused. He takes loyalty very seriously, and I take my new-model
Caddies and the future ownership of Viking Automotive pretty seriously myself. I'm in line to run Viking Appliance and Norse Man Liquors, too,
but it's the dealership I care most about, being a natural at car sales.
So of course, I just sat there quietly in the courtroom, bored, with
Devera and her hysterical mother, Helen.
"Just look at that man," she'd say, shredding Kleenex like a hamster. "If he's not put away for life, he'll come after us for the final revenge."
The poor guy was French-Canadian, and his accent, you can bet, added a couple of years onto his sentence. Around White Falls, people tend to think you can judge a book by its cover and foreign accents are most often up to something.
After our wedding reception, Dad Evan and Helen drove us out to a three-bedroom ranch house on Flame Lake. The front door was wrapped in ribbon like a present and Dad Evan tossed me the deed like it was spare change. Dad Evan likes to give big presents away as if he's doing nothing more than picking up a check for pie and coffee. It burns me--his Mr.
Casual act--so I go right along with it, like it's no big deal. Of course,
as a bridegroom of twenty-two, I hadn't figured this out yet and I jumped right along with Devera, hugging and kissing him like he was Monte Hall.
Last fall we bought a bigger lot and built a new house--five bedrooms and a sauna in the basement--on the east side of the lake, because Devera thought it was time to move up. My wife keeps our upward mobility on a tight schedule.
At thirty-nine, Devvie is going through an early midlife crisis. It's harder on me than our daughter's puberty. The things I'm sure would please her--a "greatest hits" disco CD, a bottle of Jungle Gardenia--now make her cry or get mad. She says things like, "Have I ossified?"
To answer her I sniff the air. "I thought I smelled something."
She started taking some night courses (she says just because she earned a degree doesn't mean she learned anything) and she takes a book wherever she goes. She tried to read at the dinner table, and even my daughters backed me up in letting her know there is a limit to rudeness.
I'm hoping it's a passing stage. When we moved to the new house, she threw out her little plastic "Least Changed" trophy, saying she now considered that award an insult. I've noticed BiDi still has hers in the glass-and-walnut display case Sergio built for Franny's hockey honors.
Our daughter Lin won't have anything to do with Franny; she calls her a dork with a capital "d" which perturbs Dev and BiDi, who'd like their best friend thing to be passed down to the daughters. I get along okay with
Sergio, but I'd known Big Mike, BiDi's first husband, since the second grade, so there was this loyalty thing there. Big Mike and BiDi divorced about four years ago. Big Mike said he needed his freedom. He told me this one late-October day when we were laying on our stomachs in a duck blind.
I almost shot my arm off, I was so shocked.
"Freedom from BiDi? What are you--crazy?"
The wad of tobacco Big Mike always had in his mouth traveled the length of his lower lip. "She's a lot different at home, Dick."
"I'll bet," I said, wiggling my eyebrows.
Big Mike laughed and waved his gun at the autumn sky, a big full blue.
"Damn ducks know we're here," he said. "They've changed their flight pattern." His tongue poked the chew into the corner of his mouth. "Believe me," he said, squinting up at the sky, "BiDi puts on a hell of a show, but at home it's like living with a warden. That big cookie jar? The one that's shaped like a caboose that she made in ceramics? Every time I do something that bugs her, I gotta put a quarter in it. A quarter if I chew in the house. A quarter if I don't put the toilet seat down. A quarter if
I drink more'n two beers a night. Christ, pretty soon it'll cost a quarter just to put my arms around her."
I wanted to pursue this, but Big Mike just shook his head and spit out a slimy wad of tobacco.
BiDi went through sort of a wild period after the divorce was finalized and Big Mike moved to Wisconsin; she was out dancing at King Olaf's almost every night, getting drunk with strikers from the meatpacking plant and truck drivers who had pulled off the interstate.
Sergio had a booth at a confections and chocolate convention in Fargo and came across King Olaf's on his way down to Minneapolis. He and BiDi were married three weeks later, in our backyard, under a trellis Devera made me rig up. BiDi wore a dress that looked as if it would transfer straight to the honeymoon, no problem. Pastor Egeqvist miffed a line or two; put a cleavage like that in front of any man--of the cloth or not--he's going to get flustered.
Sergio started up a store on Main Street--about five blocks from the car lot--and he's done so well that he's thinking of going national. He'll become a rich man off chocolate cakes, of all things. They are good,
though, and I'm not all that big on chocolate in the first place (unlike my wife). Sergio says the original recipe came from his Spanish grandmother who fell in love with a Viennese baker.
Sergio's family has led dramatic lives--his father was an opera singer who lost the use of his voice during his first week in America. He was mugged and punched in the throat by some thug wearing brass knuckles (whenever I
think of that story, my hand automatically goes to my Adam's apple). His mother was a psychic, but Sergio says if she had a gift for it, she never unwrapped it. She died last year in a bus crash, an accident, Sergio points out, she obviously failed to predict.
Sergio's an interesting guy, but, man, he's got way too much energy for me. I think the only time he sits down for an extended period is when he's driving his car. Ask him to shoot a game of pool with you and you'll get dizzy watching him run around the table.
Franny's nuts about Sergio, even though she's Big Mike from her shoe size
(huge) to her skill on the hockey rink. (Big Mike's hat trick won White
Falls its first and only state high-school championship.)
BiDi told us when Sergio met Franny, he actually cried.
"I cannot believe you have the name of my own beloved grandmother," he said, holding her head in his hands. Franny (he never calls her by her nickname, it's always Francesca) had gotten scared and BiDi had to explain that Sergio didn't mean to frighten her, he was just an emotional guy. Now
Sergio plays goalie in Franny's pickup games on the lake. He wears boots because he never learned to skate.
Lin won't acknowledge us on Family Skate Nights; she just hangs around in a cluster of teenagers that somehow manage to look surly, even on ice.
Devera just laughs and says, "She's fourteen years old, Dick, what do you expect?" Still, I'm happy that Darcy at eleven lets me hold her hand when the "Blue Danube" or "Tennessee Waltz" is piped through the loudspeakers
Alf Johannson rigged up in his icehouse.
Dev is a good skater, better than me and she knows it. She's not fancy--no pirouettes or double axels--but she's fast. She wears black speed skates,
and even if I didn't have a mild nicotine habit, I'd never catch her. She skates around the rink that we've cleared off on the lake, bent over and moving only one arm like she's on the Olympic team, and I think how much pleasure it would give me if she wiped out.
She always laughs when I tell her that and then I say, what the hell,
show-off, I love a fast woman. Most of the time she unlaces my skates when we're ready to leave and rubs my feet until they're warm. It's one of those married things I never knew I'd be such a sucker for.
Reading Group Guide
Reader's Guide copyright © 1998 by The Ballantine Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc.
1. Why do you think Landvik has written this book from several perspectives? Do you find it easy to follow the action, or does the multi-narrator format take getting used to?
2. With which characters do you most closely identify? How would you describe each of the main characters in this story?
3. Why do you think the author chose Darcy as the narrator representing the younger generation? Do you think it would have been more effective to have Franny tell her own story rather than having other narrators tell it for her? What do you think the biggest difference is between the two generations presented in this story?
4. There are two people having affairs in this novel: Sergio (with Noreen) and Devera (with Professor Gerhart). How do their affairs differ, and how are they same? Why do you think Landvik has chosen to make one of the affairs benign and the other more harmful? Do you think Sergio or Devera has good reason for having an affair?
5. Other cultures think Americans overreact when it comes to human sexuality and extramarital affairs. Are Americans too straight-laced? When we find out about public figures committing adultery, how much should we care? Do we pay too much attention to the private lives of our public figures?
6. What would you do if you found out a married friend of yours was planning to have an affair? Would you try to talk the friend out of it? Would you tell the spouse?
7. How would you describe the relationships that exist between the children and their parents?
8. Why does Franny choose to tell her stepfather that she's started menstruating rather than her mother? What does this say about Franny's relationship with her mom? Why do you think BiDi is so jealous of Franny's hockey success?
9. BiDi wears form-fitting clothes to flaunt her body and considers flirting a recreational sport. What do you think of her behavior? Is it acceptable to play the "game" the way she does? BiDi also says the people who call her a tease are the ones who are angry because she refuses to play the flirtation game by their rules. Do you think BiDi's right?
10. Do you see BiDi as a shallow character? How does having the baby change her character? Is she heading for a redemption of some kind?
11. What do you think went through Darcy's mind when she saw her mother, crouched under the table, in the midst of a severe panic attack? Devera talks openly and honestly with Darcy about the attack. Should she be so forthcoming about something that so obviously terrifies her daughter?
12. Sergio is determined to find, and even kill, the guy who beat up his stepdaughter. How would you react if someone you loved had been attacked? Is Sergio's eye-for-an-eye philosophy the answer?
13. BiDi is clearly unhappy about having another child. Why doesn't she tell Sergio about her feelings? She goes along with being a mother even though she really doesn't take too well to the role. Are parents like this hurtful to their children in the long run? Do you think parents are able to keep their unhappiness about being parents from their children?
14. Was Franny right to tell her father that she overheard Bidi talking about considering an abortion? Should she have talked to her mother first?
15. Why do you think Franny decides to give up ice hockey? Does this mean that the people who attacked her have won? Do you think she'll take up hockey again?
16. Franny eventually gets a letter of apology from one of the guys who beat her up. She says she accepts the apology but doesn't feel ready to forgive him. How would you react under similar circumstances?
17. Who do you think is responsible for the auto accident? Should Sergio have let the boys go? Was he irresponsible, considering that he had two other kids in the car with him? What would you have done?
18. Was Sergio right to confront Pete Arsgaard? Should he have spoken to Arsgaard's parents first? How would you have handled the situation?
19. Dick eventually decides to forgive Devera after finding out about her affair. However, he says, "Either I'm the biggest chump in the world or there should be a St. Dick, patron saint of forgiveness." Do you think Dick is a chump, or suitably forgiving?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've read other books by this author which were very good so I was extremely disappointed with this one. None of the characters are like able. I kept reading hoping the plot would get better but no luck.
I real Lorna Landvik books because I love the way she writes. Her characters are always believeable. I liked this book, but didn't love it.
If you've been reading too much King, Hemmingway, Rice or even Shakespeare, Your Oasis on Flame Lake works as a nice pallet cleanser between deep reads. With casual characters who have emotions and reactions we all can relate to, this book is like watching a shallow but humorous and somewhat quaint movie that doesn't make you think, but instead leaves you with a sense of ease as your mind doesn't have to work over-time to comprehend it all. A mental vacation to Your Oasis on Flame Lake is recommended by this reader.
I became a huge Lorna Landvik fan approximately six years ago, after reading, "Oh, My Stars." My plan is to read every book she has written. The characters in this book -- as all the Landvik books I've read to date -- are well-developed. They seem like everyday people. A most enjoyable read. Looking forward to the next book!
I have read and like Lorna Landvik's other books so was really looking forward to this one. The blurb on the back sounded like it might be different and interesting. I love stories about Minnesota. The book started slow, really slow, but I kept on thinking it would pick up, get betters. I put it down somewhere after 100 pages and just didn't pick it up again. Finally selling it used on Amazon.
This book is simply the chronicle of average people doing average things. Their emotions are average as are their dreams. Whenever their motivation becomes the least bit interesting the author bails them out by going on to a new average occurance. Avoid this book!