Peter Geye's second brilliant novel, The Lighthouse Road, is set at time when people could still start over and when it was possible to live in a half-blind world that kept its open secrets close. Through vivid characterizations and poetic descriptive prose, Geye explores dualities, especially in family, love, truth, and personal history.
At the center is Hosea Grimm who calls himself an apothecary, midwife, surgeon, and dentist. His background is an enigma, but he appears resourceful and knowledgeable, winning the town's trust. Yet before he sets up shop in Gunflint, he goes to Chicago to acquire a 13-year-old daughter, Rebekah, to solidify his image as a family man. Thus from the start we see Grimm as both savior and enslaver of his domain.
A few years after the Grimms settle into Gunflint, they take charge of baby Odd, who was orphaned just weeks after his birth. From this nucleus, the story spins through time, stopping in the past and present, until we begin to see the characters whole, with all their flaws exposed.
The Lighthouse Road begs for discussion but must first be experienced straight from Peter Geye. I have lists of themes I want to write about, but after hours of struggling, I realize there is no way to discuss blind-eye disease, lies, fresh starts, the possibility of unconditional love, survival, trust, independence, hope, and changing perspectives without talking about the novel almost line for line.
What I can talk about is Geye's incredible talent at creating characters. The people of Gunflint are so fully formed that not only do I understand what motivates Rebekah's decisions but I have a feel for the level-headedness and kindness of the town lawyer, although we meet him only a few times. In addition, the sights and sounds of the rugged, male-dominated north woods of the last century are permanently engraved in my mind, as are private moments of Odd's life:
He wasn't expecting to see her inside but was glad when he did. Sitting under the open window, in the guttering candlelight, her hair down the way he liked. There she was. He stood in the dark corner of the fish house looking at her, she looking back. Neither spoke. It occurred to him, as he untied his boot laces and kicked them off, that candlelight was doing the same work inside that the lightning had been doing out: throwing just enough light to lead him where he needed to be. (p. 15; uncorrected proof)Peter Geye's The Lighthouse Road is a beautifully written, stunning novel of self-preservation, secrets, and the ache for love. Geye's work is unforgettable and will be read for generations to come.