Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Gone-Away Lake recounts the happenings of a single summer. In Elizabeth Enright’s usual episodic fashion, each chapter centers on a single event, usually one taking less than a day. The action begins with Portia and Foster Blake on their annual train journey to visit their aunt and uncle in the country; for the first time, they travel alone. Other things, too, mark the upcoming summer as different: Uncle Jake and Aunt Hilda have bought a new house, and their Boxer dog, Katy, has just had puppies. Exploring the woods behind the new house, Portia and her cousin Julian discover a stone with the inscription “LAPIS PHILOSOPHORUM / TARQUIN ET PINDAR / 15 JULY 1891,” cross a swamp leading to a colony of derelict summer houses, and then, surprisingly, encounter two elderly people living there.

After meeting Mrs. Cheever and her brother, Pindar Payton, the children learn of the summer colony’s deterioration after its central lake vanished. The old people, having returned to Gone-Away for financial reasons, are completely self-sufficient: They clothe themselves out of steamer trunks of old garments; supply themselves with food from their gardens, milk from their goats, and honey from their bees; and repel the swamp’s many insects with A. P. Decoction, an antipest remedy developed after many trials. “I wonder how many human beings have voluntarily rubbed their skins with a solution of boiled skunk cabbage and wild garlic,” recalls Mr. Payton,...

(The entire section is 543 words.)