Book Review: A Distorted Identity Deepens the Mystery of “Mirror Lake”

The opening of “Mirror Lake” takes the reader to a haunted kingdom of remote Maine woods with a lake as its gravitational center. It is as if the lake holds the surrounding mountains in place.

“At certain moments of silence, their motionless mass makes the blackness of the water which splits under the hull almost frightening, shot through with an iridescence which does not come from the colors of the sky but from the deepest chasms into which the victims of Mirror Lake. writes author Andrée A. Michaud, translated by JC Sutcliffe for the first English edition of the 2006 thriller, published last year.

Into this world comes Robert Moreau, recently retired, in search of intimacy and isolation, needing “to go where no one could follow me”. Moreau observes that staring into the “treacherous waters of the lake forces you to look yourself straight in the eye and wonder who you are and who you might have been, even as the picture blurs and you conclude that there is no there is no answer to these questions”.

Maine, comes to believe, is “a land full of secrets.”

In addition to secrets, “Mirror Lake” is filled with weird and confusing puzzles and distortions, and unfathomable hallucinatory episodes that ultimately cause Moreau to question not just who he is, but whether he’s sane.

The lake’s promise of idyllic solitude is shattered almost from the start when Moreau realizes that he is not the only inhabitant – living or dead – held in the lake’s grip. Bob Wilson, a chubby, gregarious guy who stays on the opposite shore, rows across the lake to introduce himself.

“‘Hi. I’m your new neighbour. As if I didn’t know. As if I hadn’t lived long enough to recognize the many faces a calamity can take.

Wilson greets Jeff, Moreau’s golden coated dog, happy that he is friendly. Moreau quickly succeeds in repelling Bob, who leaves screaming: “See you soon, raccoon”. Wilson keeps his word, appearing the next day with a new puppy. “Bill the puppy would be identical to Jeff the dog in every way,” Moreau thinks. Annoyed, he wonders if Wilson might want “us to buy matching underwear together.”

It’s obvious at this point that nonsense lurks around Mirror Lake. Against Moreau’s best instincts, he and Wilson become drinking buddies.

Things take a dramatic turn when Moreau, returning to the lake after seeking the comfort of a prostitute in town, is greeted by Wilson, who is rowing frantically across the lake towing Moreau’s capsized boat. Wilson had panicked, believing he had seen his neighbor fall from the boat in the middle of the lake and disappear into the depths.

The unknown victim, first called John Doe, then John Doolittle, becomes a major character in the story. So does the prostitute, who Moreau says resembles Swedish actress Anita Ekberg; he starts calling her Anita. Another major character enters the story, the local sheriff with Ray-Bans that never come off, who “could easily be mistaken for Tim Robbins in the movie Short Cuts.” Robbins, as he’s called, thinks there’s been a murder by the lake. The sheriff, the reader eventually learns, is Anita’s boyfriend.

These developments tilt the story towards hallucinatory distortions of who is who. Moreau ends up getting lost in his reflection in his cabin mirror, tricking him into thinking he has become Bob Wilson.

Struggling to glean a sense of it all, borrowing from the title of the novel, I hypothesize that, perhaps, it all depends on which side of the mirror one stands on. (I’m not sure this is actually what the author intended – which reflects my lack of confidence as to what exactly is going on. But it’s a silly race, as no “exactly” can be found in the book.)

I felt lost and confused most of the time, and that’s how Robert Moreau came to feel – and maybe that’s Michaud’s point of view. Whatever his intention, I can’t get the book out of my head.

“Mirror Lake” won the Prix Ringuet, a literary prize for Quebec authors, when it was first published in French, one of many prizes awarded to Michaud for his writing.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer”, was a Bellwether Award finalist and was named Outstanding Book of the Year in Literary Fiction by Shelf Unbound. Smith can be contacted through his website: www.frankosmithstories.com.


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