A Spell on the Water.

Author:Romeo, Lisa
Position:Book review

Marjorie Kowalski Cole (author); A SPELL ON THE WATER; The University of Michigan Press (Fiction: General) $24.00 ISBN: 9780472034635

Byline: Lisa Romeo

A young family ripped apart by one parent's early death is hardly new territory in fiction, and neither is the terrain of a strong widow holding together her family, forging a newly independent life, and succeeding against odds. Yet, owing to her clear prose and strong storyline, Marjorie Kowalski Cole brings a refreshing slant to this novel.

Much like the beloved northern Michigan lake where her characters choose to live, Cole's matriarch, Mary Leader, is possessed of a will that's both brilliantly clear and opaquely complicated. Mary moves her clan to the tiny summer lakeside resort they've tended since before her husband's death, but not always for the typically valiant reasons one fathoms. Widowed in the late 1950s, it would have been far easier to acquiesce to convention and sell; but she takes a stand, not so much for women's rights as for one woman's chance to escape what's expected. Similarly, her small stake in civil rights and her determined fostering of independence in all her children, regardless of gender, are rooted in her own fierce need to break a chain.

As each child comes of age, Mary makes sacrifices that help them while hindering her own growth; she's a compassionate, dedicated nurse who's also a...

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