Mary Lawson’s debut novel Crow Lake, published by Dial Press in 2002, is a study of family dynamics and the power of love.
The story is narrated by Kate Morrison, a twenty-six-year-old woman living in Crow Lake in northern Ontario. When she was seven years old, Kate’s parents were killed in a car accident. She and her siblings must find a way to survive. Bo is Kate’s toddler sister. Luke is nineteen, and Matt is seventeen. The town gathers around these children to try to support them. In the aftermath of their parents' deaths, the siblings are divided among many relatives. Aunt Annie charts their lives: Matt will return to her to work on the family farm. Luke will continue on to college. Bo and Kate will live with an aunt and uncle in another town.
This plan is rejected in order to keep the family together. Luke decides to forego his college scholarship and get a job. The siblings struggle with finding jobs and making enough money to survive. Unwashed laundry and garbage pile up. There is no farm work in the winter and the boys become more agitated and fight. Eventually they find employment after a period of great poverty. They also receive help from a neighbor. Strange things begin to appear from the neighboring farm of the Pye family because of the violent father. Matt starts a relationship with Maria Pye and he later suffers an accident.
Kate pursues a career as a zoologist at a Toronto college and has a relationship with Daniel, a bright son of academics. His parents are descended from Europeans who are well-respected in their fields. She has trouble returning to Crow Lake and Matt’s fate when she is invited to Matt’s sons’ s eighteenth birthday party. Kate feels separate from her family. She also has trouble seeing Matt again with his deficiency, as he was always the inspiration for her interest in science.
Reviewers have praised Crow Lake for its pacing and timing, and the vibrancy of the story as a family struggles to survive. Lawson's lyrical writing style garnered much enthusiasm for her debut novel as well.