Lake of Earth by William VanDenBerg
Caketrain, 2013; 90 pp
Reviewed by Rebecca Ligon
William VanDenBerg’s Lake of Earth is a collection that vibrates with a relentless intensity. Each story is a glimpse into lives and worlds that could plausibly run parallel to our own. Perception and memory are integral components of this collection. Some of VanDenBerg’s narrators struggle with an inability to perceive, while others perceive more than they wish. Similarly, some characters find the lines between truth and fiction blurred, and others are unable to forget.
The titular story conjures a world contained on a single island, where no one can remember how they came to be there. Mysticism, religion, and repression appear throughout as some try to forget the past and create a present of their own design. But some secrets are not meant to be buried. One character – a man whose entire identity is a self-made construct – says, “I want another life. I would like to be stripped of myself. I want to be born as something new and clean and beautiful.” In a world where there is nothing of the past, people continue to long for a better future – and a better version of themselves.
The six stories that frame “Lake of Earth” are just as stark and poignant. They thrust the reader head first into dizzying settings and scenarios, from a series of five cities to a three-story house occupied by members of a cult. Within these pieces, as well as the collection as a whole, there exists a distinct desire to belong. VanDenBerg writes in his final story, “This Is How We Move Through Homes,” “I am certain I am not going around in circles. I am certain that I will someday turn a corner or pass through a wall and someone will be there to greet me.” Lake of Earth is a transformative meditation on what it means to be removed, alone, and wandering in a world whose depths are alluring and entirely unknown.