A Perfect Place To Disappear

September 4, 2009 // Filed under Uncategorized


Lake of the Woods, the 950,400 acre lake which straddles the border between Minnesota and Canada, is not a locale where you want to get lost, but it is THE perfect place in which to disappear. With over 14,000 islands and extensive forests, this remote area could easily swallow up a lost person. It is also a great place to stage one’s disappearance if so desired. In addition, the massive lake affords a wonderful opportunity to dispose of a body without detection. What if someone suddenly vanished here? Who would know which possible scenario had really happened? That’s the premise of Tim O’Brien’s excellent book, In the Lake of the Woods.


The lake proves to be the ideal setting for O’Brien to examine the idea of inexplicable loss with all its myriad, painful angles. In this 1994 book the author creates a fascinating human drama centered on a troubled couple seeking solace and/or escape on a remote section of the lakefront. The husband is trying to blot out the disappointment and disgrace of his political downfall, and it is clear that he has become figuratively lost. His wife’s story, on the other hand, is revealed mostly through her husband’s reflections and the must-read footnotes. For early in the plot, it is the wife who becomes physically lost, vanishing suddenly in the night. From this point on, the story expands into both a mesmerizing mystery story and a somber reflection on self-knowledge. In fact, the idea of being lost to oneself becomes paramount as the story unfolds.

In true Tim O’Brien style, a traumatic episode from the Vietnam War plays a significant role as do the recalled experiences from the man’s youth. There are a minimum of characters, but they are well drawn, and additional character input comes from the truly engrossing footnotes. While there are no comforting resolutions or easy answers, In the Lake of the Woods is a fabulous book right to the ending.
Book review by Evelyn Fischel

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