Book Review: Echo Lake by Letitia Trent
A Novel by Letitia Trent
Dark House Press, July 2014
Reviewed by Natalie Sypolt
When Emily Collins learns that she’s inherited a house in Heartshorne, Oklahoma, she sees a new start—a way to leave behind her unsatisfying life in Columbus and her philandering boyfriend to begin again in her mother’s hometown. What Emily does not expect is a journey that becomes as much about the past as about the future.
Echo Lake, the first novel from Letitia Trent, reveals itself in layers, much like Echo Lake, the manmade lake at the center of Heartshorne. The old town lies beneath the water, intentionally flooded to create the lake. But, more than that, the lake conceals secrets, missing people, and ugly crimes committed in the name of justice. Trent leaves just enough mystery to allow the reader to question whether it is the green mist that sometimes rises from the lake that causes ordinary people to turn violent, or if it is the anger already hiding in their hearts.
Trent has previously published several books of poetry, and the attention to language and the lyric line comes through in her prose as well. When describing the hard rain that eventually causes Echo Lake to flood again, and churn up skeletons (literal and figurative), Trent writes
It rained so hard that pools of water formed in the low places on dirt roads, making some impassable, trapping men in the houses the hated, the women they loved or had once loved angry and chain smoking, the children unable to leave for school, the children trapped in houses they hated with mothers who drank and slurred and watched beautiful women and men on television shouting at each other or living in places that that children had never seen and could hardly imagine, the children afraid and angry but also desiring to pick at the wound that made the mother cry or shout or even hit…
Any reader can imagine Heartshorne now. They know this place, have felt trapped in this way. Trent makes this small town in Oklahoma as real to the reader as the hometown they couldn’t stay in, or the one they could never leave.
The theme of being trapped permeates Echo Lake and is explored in several different ways. Emily is trapped in her anger at her mother, who was distant in life and died before Emily could ask any of the important questions, including what happened to her as a teen that made her family leave Oklahoma. The residents of Heartshorne are trapped by the town, by expectations, by silence. Jonathan, a local who quickly befriends Emily, tells her, “…as soon as you are born, you are born into a place where there are rules, as clear as the rules that everyone else lives by, just different.” It would be easy to continue to follow the rules, to take life when life was taken and to look the other way; it is harder to wade out into the lake and face the evilness there—the evilness inside—yet return to the shore, stronger and freer.
While Echo Lake is haunting and certainly has moments of darkness, hope is at the heart of this book. There is hope that people can change, that they can overcome whatever misdeeds and pains have happened in the past to create a better future. Echo Lake shows the reader that people, ordinary men and women, can be the instruments of that change, and can save not just themselves, but can also redeem one another.
Natalie Sypolt lives and writes in West Virginia. She received her MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and currently teaches creative writing, literature, and composition. Her fiction and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Glimmer Train, r.kv.r.y., Superstition Review, Paste, Willow Springs Review, and The Kenyon Review Online, among others. Natalie is the winner of the Glimmer Train New Writers Contest, the West Virginia Fiction Award, and the Betty Gabehart Prize. She also serves as a literary editor for the Anthology of Appalachian Writers; is co-host of SummerBooks, a literary podcast; and is currently the special guest prose editor for Banango Street Review.