Review by Aaron Paul Lazar
Publisher: Lake Superior Port Cities
Author’s website: http://www.berylsingletonbissell.com/blog.htm
A View of the Lake, by Beryl Singleton Bissell, is a vibrant collection of reflective essays centered on the North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota. Each slice-of-life chapter transports the reader into Ms. Bissell’s life in this majestic country, as well as connecting us to her gentle spirit.
Sometimes thoughtful, often humorous, and ever delightful, the work spans topics dealing with the life of “newcomers” in the town of Schroeder to an intimate and stirring connection with the great outdoors. From encounters with bear, moose, deer, and rare bird species, to a private viewing of the Northern Lights, to poignant experiences with neighbors, this assortment of day-in-the-life type stories will charm the most jaded reader.
Take, for example, this excerpt from “Historical Society”, when the author joined the Schroeder group to help document stories of the residents. Oftentimes the locals lamented not having recorded stories from their parents and grandparents, and expressed a sadness over this loss.
“There were times when, as I sat taping others’ memories, I experienced this loss personally. My mother died before I was wise enough to ask questions. I now hold only fragments of her life, each piece bristling with questions, each piece weighted with the unknown.
We are born. We die. We do what others do. Some of the elders wondered why I wanted to know about their lives when they’d been so uneventful. In the telling, they came to a fresh appreciation of themselves and the community in which they’d lived for such a long time. Like a musical score played over and over again, the sound, timing, and interpretation are never quite the same.”
Who among us hasn’t experienced such thoughts? Universal themes such as this loss of family history, this common plight among man, resonate throughout the book. I often find myself up against the same dilemma. Even now, fourteen years after the death of my father and last remaining grandmother, a question about our heritage pops into my mind, and I reach to pick up the phone to call one of them, before realizing once again, it’s too late. Ms. Bissell’s themes resonate with this reader on a rare and special frequency.
But Beryl Singleton Bissell’s book is not all sadness and longing. No, on the contrary, it is filled with the spirit of adventure, love for fellow man, a passion for and connection with each and every tiny aspect of nature, and most of all, the embracing of life. Ms. Bissell frequently shares philosophical gems, such as this excerpt from the chapter named “Shrike Attack”.
“Winter focuses a harsher light on North Shore living, reminding me that nature, while beautiful, caters to no one and no thing; beauty is not always benevolent.”
Each of the chapters is enjoyable, and although filled with literary gold, the book remains entirely readable, broken into small chapters that can be enjoyed in a sitting or in a full-fledged marathon as I did while flying overseas to Germany last week. I longed to join this author at her side as she bent over emerging flowers in the spring, slogged through snowy trails, or watched the wonders of the sky, as in this segment from “Northern Lights.”
“…I bounded into the bedroom to wake Bill. Together we rushed out into the subzero temperatures dressed only in our pajamas and robes. Together we stood on the deck and entered ground zero of an incredible light show that shuddered around us like fireworks behind gauzy veils. It rippled and spun and folded; it expanded and dissolved; it burst and flared. I felt a searing joy.”
Although her readers may never physically see the Northern Lights, in their minds they’ll never forget this dazzling show.
Ms. Bissell has been through some incredibly tough times in life (see her first book, The Scent of God), but it’s her faith in God, her indomitable spirit, and her ability to enjoy the little things in life that carry her through, in addition to her devotion to her wonderful husband, Bill. But I believe it’s her ability to commit all of this to the written page that may have helped her purge her spirit of those sufferings best of all, and which will continue to inspire us all. The process is sublime, for writer and reader, and I for one thank her for taking the time to share these gem-like stories with the rest of the world.
I’d like to finish with one last quote from A View of the Lake, taken from the chapter entitled “A Night of Shooting Stars.” In this essay, the author has just witnessed the Leonid meteor showers.
“Small, vulnerable, and intensely alive at that moment, I gave thanks for the incredible universe that sustains and enlivens all creatures. I was no longer sipping from the cup of life, I’d become one with it.”
Very highly recommended by Aaron Paul Lazar. Buy it here.
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at http://www.lazarbooks.com and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, FOR KEEPS (MAY 2012), DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (APRIL 2012), and the author’s preferred edition of UPSTAGED (JUNE 2012).