Saturday, May 04, 2019

A Review of Layla and the Lake By Marcia D. Ross

A Review of Layla and the Lake
By Marcia D. Ross
Pelekinesis Printing, Claremont CA. April 2019
Review by Tom Miller

This is a work of fiction. The lake does not exist except on these pages. Layla does not exist except on these pages. None the less they both are real. They are recognizable. This is because the author, Marcia D. Ross does an excellent job of creating place and person in her story Layla and the Lake. The lake, unnamed in the book, could be one of hundreds that exist in Maine not unlike those that one finds in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. It is a pleasant place to be as is the forest that surrounds it.

Layla is a thirty something single mother with two children - a 14 year old son who is pushing limits and beginning to try his wings and an eight or nine year old daughter who still needs her mother in her life. Layla is a poet and an editor for a publisher of classical and academic works whose current project is an analysis of Milton's Paradise Lost , scenes of which pop into Layla’s internal narrative throughout the book. Layla is also everyone who has ever stumbled, erred, made bad choices in life and punishes themselves with constant recrimination and self-doubt. Her self-view is jumbled as is her life. She is confident in her competence with her work but less so in relationships with others, her children, her former in-laws, her ex-husband, and her somewhat mysterious lover whom she meets at the lake.

Layla has brought her children to her former in-laws’ summer home at the lake so they can spend time together as a family, (which is no longer really a family) in anticipation of her ex-husband and his current wife’s arrival the following week. Layla will then depart to give family time to that particular portion of the family, after which the children will return to their mother in Boston. At least that’s the plan.

The Lake is the setting but also a main character in the story. It is peaceful, relaxing, welcoming, beautiful and most of all…away. But it is also challenging and while not threatening, none- the- less --it is to be respected as at times it can be unexpected and tumultuous, potentially dangerous. This is unlike Bobby, the man who lives alone across the lake and with whom Layla engages upon a journey of discovery. Bobby is kind, caring, and gentle but a man with secrets. Layla who constantly berates herself for her impulsive actions and unthinking decisions follows her normal behavior pattern as their relationship evolves.

Of course this adds another layer to Layla’s constant self-derision and her search for indicators in others’ behavior that validate her conviction that they have judged her and found her wanting, but are too polite to be overt in their assessment.

In this her first novel, Ross portrays both Layla and the lake with excellent depth. Her ability to describe both place and character immerses the reader in them. You are there. You experience the lake and its surroundings. You come to know Layla and root for her. The cast of characters are each introduced as one dimensional, but as Ross peals away their layers they prove to be far more complex and real. The tensions between Layla and the in-laws build and are in flux. The same is true in the relationship with Bobby. And the arrival of the ex-husband presents another set of tensions which are resolved, more or less, in an interesting way.

And Layla’s self-esteem? Well, therein lies part of Ross’ artwork. You need to read the book in order to find out how that progresses. Ross is an excellent story teller and the reader will find themselves engrossed.

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