“There’s been an accident at Bear Lake”. There’s a tragic inevitability to this sentence which comes half-way through William Prendiville’s beautiful little novella, Atlantic Winds. The signs are there early on in how the story of Tom and Sasha is related, the tentative beginnings of their youthful love and the circumstances of their lives in Bear Lake simultaneously too strong and yet too fragile to withstand what is ahead. So when that sentence comes, it feels like you’ve been waiting on it with a horrible sense of foreboding and trepidation.
The fact that you are anxious about the fate of these characters is very much down to the quality of the writing, which is direct and unpretentious and not as grim as that warning might have made it sound. It’s a style that is in tune with the age group of the young people involved, Tom only 14 when he first sees Sasha, and sees something in her that he doesn’t see in anyone else, and something that others haven’t yet seen in Sasha. It’s that indefinable quality of attraction, the impact it has on young people and how it leads to love that Prendiville captures so well.
It’s the tone then as well as the relative youth of Tom and Sasha that leads you to have some concerns about how they will endure the difficulties that lie ahead. There’s a melancholic wistful tone there from the outset, a sense of looking back, of nostalgia and memory, of youth and possibilities. And where there are possibilities there are also paths not followed, potential not realised, lives cut short. But it’s love that is the dominant characteristic here, one that carries all those others implicitly within it.
What also exerts an influence on the tone of the book is the location and the period of economic decline. Bear Lake is a small community and it has its problems; problems that are probably intensified by it being remote and cut off from the mainland. The obstacles that lie in the way of Tom and Sasha being together are not just the usual ones of love rivalry and parental objection, but factors that relate to the logging community on Bear Lake, to the flow of work, to redundancies that place hardships on people, leading to families moving on and moving away.
There are any number of obstacles that Tom and Sasha’s relationship has to endure, and the expected accident that occurs is certainly a factor in where it goes, but the exact reasons are less easily defined. William Prendiville nonetheless captures all the beauty of life and love in this lovely little novella, and it’s those indefinable mysteries, possibilities and potential outcomes that don’t materialise that ensures that the story will linger in the mind for a long time afterwards.
Atlantic Winds by William Prendiville on Amazon
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