Novelist Abi Maxwell’s first book imagines a lake and the secrets surrounding it
Lakes are funny things. So clear and calm, light playing on the surface without worry or fear. But then again, that light doesn’t get in too deep.
The life hiding just beneath the surface can be as mysterious as those lured to live on a lake’s banks. Or at least that’s the theory in Abi Maxwell’s first novel, Lake People. The book is a menagerie of legends and characters threaded together by Alice Thornton, an orphan in search of her origins.
“She’s the product of an illegitimate love affair between a member of the richest class and a member of the poorest class,” Maxwell said. “So the book is kind of her search for her identity, and she knows that she has this pull to the lake, but she doesn’t know why.”
Maxwell, who lives in the Lakes Region, will discuss Lake People at Gibson’s Bookstore in downtown Concord tonight.
“Hosting a local author like Abi Maxwell is the epitome of our mission to be a good community bookstore,” said Elisabeth Jewell of Gibson’s. “We’re proud to be one of the first stops on her literary career.”
Maxwell grew up in the Lakes Region. After studying fiction writing at the University of Montana, she came back to the area and currently is an assistant librarian at the Gilford Public Library.
“I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember,” she said. “And I’ve just pieced together a living in order to support my writing. . . . But I was always first and foremost a writer.”
In that time spent writing, Maxwell discovered the Town of Kettleborough, New Hampshire. While fictitious, this tiny town surrounding an unnamed lake in rural New Hampshire has some roots in reality.
“Lake Winnipesaukee was the inspiration for that lake (in the novel), absolutely,” Maxwell said. “I grew up going to that lake. But the lake in this book is totally untouched by the outside world. Totally not the case with Lake Winnipesaukee.”
Maxwell started with the town when she began writing the book, 10 years ago. As she did, she researched Lake Winnipesaukee and was struck by the legends and histories that surround the lake.
“It’s got this mystery to it,” Maxwell said. “To me it’s this image of such beauty and it looks so vast, but it’s also this deadly force. And that was really fascinating to me.”
She was five years into writing about the place when the characters started to take shape. Maxwell
said she’s not sure why she writes about a place before the people, although that’s the process she’s following for her second book, currently in the works. But she guesses it’s because “I’m from rural New Hampshire. And the place is just so evocative to me. So when places come to my mind or when characters come to my mind, it’s always set in New Hampshire. I mean, the natural world is where I’ve always felt the most comfortable, but the natural world is also what makes my imagination run.”
The story centers on Alice Thornton, who is discovered in a boathouse as an infant and adopted by a childless couple. Alice is raised without knowledge of her past and the people from whence she came. But others know who she is and secrets of her past.
“Her parents, her ancestors came from the lake and have a sort of mythological connection,” Maxwell said.
As she strives to learn about who she is, their stories emerge. Those stories include that of Eleonora, who brought Thornton’s family to Bear Island, the nearly uninhabitable spit of land in Kettleborough’s lake; Signe, the aunt who nearly drowned in the lake; and Sophie, the grandmother who turned a blind eye to Thornton. As Alice grows up, she longs to be accepted, looking first for love with an older man, then a man who can’t love her back and finally, a love for someone she has never met. The book explores the power of family history versus individual fate, as well as the pull we feel to the places we were born.
And that story was strong enough to land this rural writer a book deal with Random House.
“I worked on it a very long time, and once I thought it was done, I sent it out to some agents and found an agent and we found an editor,” she said. “I’ve always really believed in the system, and for me the system has worked.”
The Gibson’s event will start at 7 p.m. The bookstore is located at 27 S. Main St. For information, visit gibsonsbookstore.com/event/abi-maxwell-lake-people.