Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review - Season of Water And Ice by Donald Lystra

SEASON OF WATER AND ICE - SEASON OF WATER AND ICE is the unforgettable story of two young people confronting life during a tumultuous few months of 1957. In quiet but searing prose, it explores the timeless issues of love and family, the destructive forces to which these ideals are exposed, and the healing powers which can restore them.

Danny DeWitt, aged fourteen, lives with his father in a rural area of northern Michigan following the family’s abrupt move from the city and the unexplained departure of his mother. Bookish and friendless—and wanting to “stand at the side of things for a while”—Danny becomes acquainted with Amber, a pregnant teenager abandoned by her boyfriend and rejected by her family and community. Both outsiders—one by choice, the other because of social stigma—Danny and Amber form an unusual, openhearted alliance which helps each to deal with their separate challenge. Amber must build a life for herself in the face of intolerance, and Danny must come to terms with his mother’s rejection and his father’s growing isolation. The friendship is tested when Amber’s abusive boyfriend returns and Danny’s mother draws further away, leading to a crisis which threatens Amber and her unborn child, as well as Danny’s conception of love and manhood.
Reflecting the political and social climate of the 1950s, Season of Water and Ice is underscored by themes of independence and obligation, love and sexuality, courage and surrender. It is a story that will stay with you.

After reading this book, I couldn't forget it. The author really pulls you in, making you feel like your sitting right there.  I loved Danny, he is a gentle, sweet boy, so curious about everything and so confused. He befriends a pregnant girl who lives next door and tries to help her but she's so confused they end up helping each other.
The end takes a twist that you don't see coming.  I loved the story and highly recommend it! 

"You know what I think?" she said, and she spoke as if she hadn't even heard my question. "We are sort of the same. You were right about that. We're both outsiders."  I wasn't exactly sure what she meant about being an outsider- even though that was sort of how I felt about myself. But it was nice to hear her say we had something in common...

About the author Donald Lystra:

Raised in various cities and small towns around Michigan, Donald Lystra received degrees in electrical engineering and sociology from the University of Michigan. He worked for many years on electrical power plants before beginning to write fiction in the mid-1990s. He has received creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hapshire, and his work was cited for Special Mention in the 2002 Pushcart Prizes. Mr. Lystra and his wife divide their time between Ann Arbor and a farm in northern Michigan. He has two grown children.

Season of Water and Ice, his first novel, was the winner of the 2009 Midwest Book Award for fiction, and it was named by the Library of Michigan as a Michigan Notable Book for 2010.

Questions and answer from Mr. Lystra's website:

Q. Where did the idea for Season of Water and Ice come from?

Season of Water and Ice grew out of a short story I wrote which appeared in The Cimarron Review, entitled “Family Way.” I liked the characters and the situation I’d created, but I felt the short story didn’t adequately resolve all the issues I’d embedded in it. So I thought it would be interesting to push the characters forward for another couple of hundred pages and see what happened. I didn’t have any master plan; I was just following the characters as they dealt with difficult situations. 
Q. Why did you choose to set your story in such an unlikely time and place? i.e.,  Northern Michigan in the 1950s.

DL. I’ve always thought the decade of the 50s was more complex and interesting than it’s come to be regarded. There is very little fiction that captures that complexity, in my opinion. Most people think of the 50s as a time of blandness and conformity but my recollection is that it was far more interesting than that; full of cross currents and struggles and doubts. Certainly that was true if you were a young person then. The country was in the aftermath of two great traumas, the Depression and the Second World War, and it was in the early years of the nuclear age. People have forgotten, but the prospect of nuclear annihilation was very much on peoples' minds. In the face of all of that, I think there was a desire to make everything seem normal, even if you could only make it look that way on the surface. But underneath—in people’s lives—I believe there was much ferment and struggle. That’s what I was trying to reflect in the book.

As for setting the story on a lake in northern Michigan, I had the experience as a boy of spending a fall and winter in a lakeside cottage, and I remember how austere it could be when the colder weather came on. It was quite surprising to me, because I knew how wonderful that environment could be in the summer. So it was the stunning contrast caused by the slight shift of seasons that seemed interesting to me as a backdrop for a story.
Q. What—at your age—made you write a coming-of-age story?

DL. I don’t think of it as a coming-of-age story; I just had a situation and some characters I wanted to explore. In any event, beyond being the story of a boy "growing up," I think the book says something about life and human relationships, and the lengths people go to preserve a sense of belonging and a feeling of being loved.

Q. To what extent is Season of Water and Ice autobiographical?

DL. Danny is not me, as far as I know. Although my family did move several times when I was growing up, so I know what it’s like to be an outsider, at least for a time. And for some reason those moves involved very different places—large cities, small towns, suburbs, the country—and so I also know what it’s like to change cultures, as Danny has done in the book. But beyond that, I think Danny and I are completely different people.
Q. Do you think the character Danny is typical of teenage boys in the 1950s?

DL. Danny desperately wants to understand what life is all about, and he goes about it in a thoughtful and sensitive way. And for that reason I have the feeling he will seem like a very unusual boy to some readers. But my own feeling is that he’s actually not that unusual, either with respect to the 1950s or now.  Boys are more complicated and have a greater access to tender emotions than they’re generally given credit for.
Q. What caused you to begin writing at such a late stage in your life?

DL. I worked as an engineer for many years, but I always loved language and literature, and I knew that some day I would try my hand at writing fiction. Then, in 1993, I had an operation that required a long period of recuperation. I suddenly had a lot of idle time to fill up, and I decided it was a good opportunity to finally try to write. And then I found that I enjoyed writing to the point of wanting to make it a permanent part of my life. When I went back to work, I made some changes that  allowed me to write on a regular schedule. It required a bit of a career shift, but in retrospect I’m happy I made that decision.
Q. You’ve lived most of your life in Michigan. How do you think that has affected your writing?

DL. I’ve lived most of my life in Michigan but not all of it. I lived in Berkeley, California from 1968 to 1972, which was a very interesting time and probably affected me in certain important ways. And I’ve lived for extended periods in France and Mexico and Canada. But I do consider myself a Midwesterner, and not with any hesitancy. I like the common sense approach to life that's embedded in Midwestern culture. And I like the sincerity of Midwestern people, the lack of guile and affectation. On the other hand, I think it helps to be aware of the particularities of whatever place you live in, whether it’s the Midwest or New York or Paris, or anywhere else, and to try to take account of that in your thinking about broader issues. I try to do that. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I try.


Teenage Bride said...

This book sounds great Natalie. I love the ages, location, and situations that are being portrayed it is unusual and intriguing.

Anonymous said...

I like unexpected endings. And I like that you included the questions. As a well travelled Midwesterner I agree that I call myself one with pride :)