THE LAKE OF DREAMS, by Kim Edwards. Viking, 384 pp., $26.95.
The Lake of Dreams is the name of the New York State hometown of Lucy Jarrett, heroine of Kim Edwards' second novel, eagerly awaited by the fans of her bestselling 2006 debut, "The Memory-Keeper's Daughter." In fact, Lucy finds a copy of what can only be that book - the "ethereal baby dress on a background of black" is the tipoff - lying open on her mother's easy chair.
"Good book?" Lucy asks.
"It's compelling so far," Mrs. Jarrett says, explaining that her boyfriend gave her a copy of Stephen King's "Cell," but she just couldn't get into it.
I think King can relax now. Edwards' new novel has none of the super-intense dramatic tension of the first - there are secrets, but we hardly care about them. Even the people in the book don't care. In one scene, Lucy phones her brother, Blake, in the middle of the night to discuss the revelations she's piecing together from old letters. "I know it's late," she tells him. "I'm sorry, I couldn't sleep. But doesn't it seem astonishing to you that there's this whole branch of the family we've never known existed?"
"It does," he answers with a sigh. "Of course it does, it's interesting. But honestly - it's not life-or-death interesting. It's not wake-me-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night interesting. Lucy, don't you think maybe you're dwelling on this a little too much?"
Lucy has been living abroad since her father's death in a fishing accident 10 years earlier - as the novel opens, she decides to return from Japan to visit. Her boyfriend, Yoshi, will join her a few weeks later.
By the time he gets there, Lucy will have a lot to tell him - she's dug up an ancestor that no one knew about, one who was involved with the woman's suffrage movement and with a prominent local stained-glass artist, one who abandoned her own daughter under confusing circumstances. Lucy's also been messing around with her old high school boyfriend and exhuming unsolved mysteries surrounding her father's falling-out with his brother. This bad brother is now planning to turn the local wetlands into a housing development: the nexus at which all the old dramas will come into play.
By that time, the reader has read too many long, fake-seeming old letters, heard too many lengthy recountings of dreams, followed too many detailed descriptions of stained-glass windows. From the minute she finds the first curio in the attic, Lucy is possessed by the idea that the lives of these unknown relatives could have powerfully shaped her own. The grounds for this conviction are never clear, though the fact that it turns out to be correct is predictable.
So which will turn out to be the anomaly - the beloved "Memory-Keeper" or the soon-to-be-forgotten "Lake of Dreams"? Based on her skills in creating characters and mapping the tension in relationships, I predict Edwards will dust herself off and get back on her game.