Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The dam keeper of Lake Glen is a man fascinated by a world from which he is estranged. In an attempt to understand who he is, how he has reached this condition of existence, and what kind of sense he might make of his life, he is obsessed with the history of the flooded town, Uree, which he has learned through the stories of his neighbors. For him, the decision by various powerful outside commercial interests to destroy a living community was the precipitating action that has resulted in a psychic blight that adversely affects nearly everyone living in or visiting Lake Glen. The dam keeper’s own troubles, significantly centered on his failure to communicate with his wife and their fruitless attempt for seven years to conceive a child, are presented by Tony Earley as an analogue for the pervasive dysfunction that defines the social nexus of the town.

The dam keeper observes that his job is to “maintain a constant pond level,” and this responsibility is a figure for the elusive psychic equilibrium that he seeks, and which the town lacks. When he confesses that he has always wanted to “drop the lake down far enough to see what is down there,” he is encapsulating both his geophysical and psychological yearning. He has stated that he thinks that the dam is “an unnatural thing,” which he tellingly compares to a diaphragm.

Even in a place in which somewhat unconventional behavior is not uncommon, the dam keeper is separated from the...

(The entire section is 498 words.)