Mahihkan Lake, by R.P. MacIntyre (Thistledown Press 2015)
Sometimes I watch a movie without an explosion. It isn’t filmed in 3D and it doesn’t have computer generated animation. There aren’t any death-defying stunts, either. It’s straightforward and dependent upon character and dialogue. Perhaps it’s something by Robert Altman or Woody Allen, or maybe it’s Denys Arcand or Jean-Marc Vallé. It’s quietly funny and darkly serious all at once. There is a touch of the absurd, and maybe even a moment of magical realism. This is a little like reading Mahihkan Lake, by R. P. MacIntyre.
Following the somewhat mysterious death of their older foster-brother, Dave, estranged siblings Denny and Dianne are left to reassemble the pieces. However, alcoholic Denny – the folk-singing, one hit wonder – is in dire need of an intervention. And his younger sister, Dianne, who looks as though she stepped “straight out of a fashion magazine,” is already burdened with a rebellious teenage daughter and a floundering marriage – not to mention the care of their Alzheimer-stricken mother.
Reunited and argumentative, the two set out for the family cabin on Mahihkan Lake in the north of Saskatchewan, where their troubled brother once found solace. Their intent is to make peace and scatter the remains, which are stored in a cookie jar. At the same time, down-trodden Harold Huckaluk, the truck driver held responsible for the death of their brother, sets out on a quest of his own. In a bizarre twist of fate and coincidence these three “strangers” are reunited on the shore of Lake Mahihkan one last time.
MacIntyre has a knack for concise description. And setting plays a key role in the unfurling of this story. The “thick green tangles” and the “low meadows of marshy drain” come alive in Mahihkan Lake. The wild-life too contributes. A wolf, “its yellow eyes clear and forlorn,” follows Harold along his paddle north. And a pair of ravens cluck “like pebbles dropped into a wooden bucket half full of water.” It is dialogue, however, that becomes the driving force behind this novel. Philosophical discussions between Denny and Dianne circle around themes of happiness and memory – both as elusive as reconciliation and forgiveness amidst siblings.
Surfacing throughout Mahihkan Lake is a secret that ebbs and flows like the river which fees it. And there are no answers to the myriad metaphysical questions of its protagonists -- only moments which define them for good and for bad. Mahihkan Lake is the bleak cinematic vision of an art-house film, which offers just enough illusory shimmer of hope and dark humour to keep you watching. Or in this case, reading.
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