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A Spell on the Water

Marjorie Kowalski Cole

Publication Year: 2011

"I couldn't put it down." ---Barbara Kingsolver In 1955, Mary and Jim Leader have the American dream: careers in medicine; a young and healthy family; and even a vacation home---a shabby resort far from bustling Chicago. But one hot afternoon changes everything. Mary, now a widow, must find a path out of her grief into a future for herself and five small children. In Michigan to sell the resort, Mary sees seven hawks riding the storm winds over the lake. This place, she thinks, can heal them with its wild beauty, so she moves her family to the northern lakeshore. But Mary has forgotten what it's like to live in a tiny rural community, where almost everyone has a stake in maintaining the status quo. Secrets are kept at great cost as Mary's children often struggle to raise themselves. A coming-of-age story for each member of the family, this is a novel of quiet heroism and the power of personal freedom. Praise for Marjorie Kowalski Cole and her previous novel, Correcting the Landscape: ". . . her writing is simple, vivid and gorgeous." ---Eugene Register-Guard ". . . a remarkable new talent. Critics have lined up to praise the book." ---Tucson Citizen "Cole's style is subtle but engrossing . . . It is quite a debut." ---Booklist Cover illustration: ©iStockphoto.com/ImagineGolf

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Sweetwater Fiction: Originals

Title Page

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pp. 1-11

On a hot afternoon in August of 1955, Mary Ashton Leader stepped up onto the wooden porch of Howie’s Marine and Bait, consumed with many errands besides the shopping list in her skirt pocket. On the shaded porch, next to the drinks cooler, a teenage girl in a bathing suit bent to smooth...

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pp. 11-23

She woke to a glass-blue, sparkling morning, and when she checked the face of the lake she saw a light chop rushing down the center— a wind from the north. When she opened the bedroom closet to find a sweater she caught a whiff of Jim’s shirts. ...

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pp. 23-30

They’d made the drive many times, but never quite like this.
Mary took two last pictures—one of Grandma and Tony together on the sidewalk, and another of the loaded station wagon, with Becky, Alex, Sharon, Sean, and Melina and the dogs, Klondy and Yukon...

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pp. 30-39

Becky and Melina followed her everywhere.
Becky took on the physical world with vigor; she’d swum out to the raft unaided at five, earlier than her older sisters. And yet she tended to cling, to both her baby sister and her mother. ...

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pp. 39-47

With no white crystals to give back the starlight or moonlight, the darkness was winning. Mary drove home every night in increasing desperation.
Oncoming winter seemed to be forming a tunnel around her struggling family. ...

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pp. 47-53

The electricity went out Monday afternoon when the wind picked up. The telephone held for another day. Chris Olivet and Mr. Wilgosch called to check on her, urged her to sit tight, and Chris promised that he would be over to the house with his blade to clear her long driveway as...

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pp. 54-61

At age five, pneumonia landed Melina in Miltonia Hospital, and when she woke up in a hospital bed she stared for a long time at the IV needle taped to her arm, wondering why it didn’t hurt. Next to her bed was a tray with Jell-O and apple juice and, best of all, a pink, patent-leather box with a handle. ...

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pp. 62-71

Sunny days in October or November, Alex and Sharon liked to get off the school bus a few miles from home and walk the rest of the way. They found relief in swinging out their legs along the road. High school was an experience unlike anything Alex had ever imagined. How she survived it she didn’t know. ...

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pp. 71-82

If only it hadn’t happened. Chris Olivet coming to the house when she wasn’t home, in such a state—and his strange story of chasing a deer into the lake—she didn’t know what to make of it. Maybe this was a time when she should have let the children handle it, let them take over—and Mary wasn’t ready for that. ...

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pp. 82-96

Alex smacked the tiled counter with a hot, soapy rag and thought, today I could use an invisibility cloak. Home from Interlochen for the long Columbus Day weekend, she’d see kids from the public high school where she’d suffered two years before Mr. Berry, her history teacher...

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pp. 96-110

Mary gently supported the girl’s shoulders as heaves convulsed her again, and this time, after five hideous deep spasms, a spoonful of green bile came up. The seventeen-year-old had survived half a bottle of sleeping pills but almost succumbed to dehydration and exhaustion. ...

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pp. 110-121

Two weeks after the manure in the driveway, school started. And Alex had made her decision: in one week, she’d be leaving for Seattle.
When she looked up at Sean leaning in the open doorway of her bedroom, the night before the first day of school...

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pp. 121-133

At a village with the ludicrous name of Spawn, a dock and gas pump served boaters on the Florida River, which flowed from a small lake through Spawn and then through a marsh into Achill Lake. This marshy stretch was still wild and beautiful when the summer tourists left. ...

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pp. 133-141

Sunday mornings after mass, the girls sprawled on the living room floor with the funny pages from the Detroit Free Press while Sean made buttermilk pancakes. He had taken pride in making the pancakes for the past year. They were better than Mary’s. His batter was...

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pp. 142-152

Mr. Wilgosch invited them over to watch the president’s funeral on his new color TV. She knew the kids should see it, should take part in the historic moment. It was a way to hang onto their handsome young president as long as possible. She joined them in the farmhouse’s shabby...

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pp. 152-163

For his fifteenth birthday Sean wanted his driver’s permit. He got behind the wheel that first day and did so well from the start she knew he’d been driving already—maybe up on Wilgosch’s farm.
He drove her out to Mr. Olivet’s place in Pleasant Valley one afternoon, with a gift of bread pudding. ...

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pp. 163-173

The summer of 1968 Alex telephoned from her work at a mental hospital, thrilled because an inmate had tried to set her hair on fire. It’s a sign from God, she told Mary.
“How is that?” Mary asked.
“Like the tongues of flame on the Pentecost!” ...

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pp. 173-181

One night in October Mary came home to the smell of scorched cheese sandwiches. Melina’s schoolwork was strewn across the dining room table. Next to a geometry textbook a three-ring binder, flung open, showed cartoon figures filling the margins of the notebook paper. ...

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pp. 181-190

In August of 1969 Alex came home for the first time in a year and a half. She pulled out of her suitcase a huge pink bucket of Almond Roca candy, a frozen chunk of smoked salmon thickly wrapped in newspaper and bread bags, and three birthday presents for her youngest sister...

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pp. 191-197

For Alex’s last night at Pinestead, Sean built a campfire on the level tongue of shore to the north of the main house and stuck foil-wrapped potatoes and ears of corn into the coals. He invited the last renters, a family of four, to share the picnic of potatoes, corn, kielbasa, and marshmallows. ...

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pp. 198-208

Burnout. Mary read about it in a nursing journal.
It happened to drug users whose brains became like spent shell cases, but this author used it to describe worker fatigue that could strike almost anyone in middle age. ...

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pp. 208-216

The weather band crackled in the kitchen, and at the words “tornado watch” Mary and Melina leaped to their feet, raced around the place shutting windows, grabbing at webbed chairs, toys, and towels, hauling the canoe into the boathouse. Mom sent Melina to the cabins to alert the renters...

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pp. 216-220

In a dented Falcon he bought for four hundred dollars, Sean drove her twice a week in the fall to Traverse City, for American Government, creative writing, and private banjo lessons. Sean worked at a cabinet shop and took one chemistry class, and sometimes they stopped for donuts...

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pp. 220-232

Melina saw the school bus on its side across the road, a crowd of children huddled in the meadow above it, before she turned her head as if in slow motion and saw her mother’s car against the tree. The driver’s side door was open, and Mary sat inside, facing out, her legs on the ground, her head bowed. ...

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pp. 232-239

November might be an off time to take the ferry to Alaska, but Melina discovered the MV Taku to be deliciously uncrowded. Long before she stepped aboard Melina floated above the ground with excitement; she had been above the ground for weeks. This entire expedition north was charmed...


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pp. 240

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027569
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472034635

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Sweetwater Fiction: Originals

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Life change events -- Fiction.
  • Widows -- Fiction.
  • Mother and child -- Fiction.
  • Fatherless families -- Fiction.
  • Country life -- Michigan -- Fiction.
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