Mary McNear on Going to the Lakehouse

One of the staples of fictional plots goes like this – something happens (usually life-changing), and then a person (usually a woman) needs to remake their life, often by returning home. Stories like this are surely so popular if only because they bring comfort through familiarity and hope that in a similar situation you have a place and network of friends where you can easily return, be accepted and nurtured through your difficult time. You will probably also find love, because in fiction, if you’re running off somewhere to regroup, it’s a given that your love life has either imploded or was sad and non-existent to begin with.  

I love it when these novels take place on an island, a lake or someplace exotic. I mean, if your life has been blown to hell, you might as well find yourself in a beautiful cabin by the lake. Mary McNear’s new series exploring life in the Midwest lake town of Butternut begins with Up At Butternut Lake, which  follows the story of a young mom and widow (whose husband has died in Afghanistan) who moves back to her family’s cabin beside the lake to make a fresh start for herself and her son Jess. Here is what Mary had to say about the pleasures of returning to the lake.

Although I have lived in San Francisco for almost twenty years and went to college and graduate school on the east coast, I was born on the near north side of Chicago, just a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan.  I grew up in Chicago and spent many summers and vacations visiting my grandparents in Racine, Wisconsin, and each summer we visited the lake house my great grandfather built on a lake in northwestern Wisconsin, about an hour south of Lake Superior.

Long after we left the Midwest, in the late 1970s, we continued to visit the lake house in Wisconsin each summer. Now, I bring my own children there in July and August and we do many of the same things that my sisters and I did when we were kids. We putter around in old motorboats, paddle creaky canoes to coves and beaches, shop at the local gift shops and have breakfast at the local diner. We still gather in the evening on the deck and watch the sun set out over the lake.

My life in San Francisco is filled with the hubbub of daily life: getting my children off to school, working on my books, and meeting friends. Interestingly, I know a lot of transplanted Midwesterners like myself who live in San Francisco, and, like me,  many  of them have memories of summers on a lake.

Sometimes I suspect my friends and I share the same fantasy of spending more than just the summer on a lake; after all, what could be a better place to run away to, to rebuild, to rediscover or maybe even to reinvent oneself than on a lake?

Maybe it’s not surprising then that when I decided to write a novel about a woman whose husband had been killed in Afghanistan, and her five year old son, I knew there was only one place for them to start over again, and that was at their family’s fishing cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota. Their lake, Butternut Lake, is fictional, but it is very much inspired by my own memories of the lake I still visit every summer.

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