The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye feels like the frozen tundra and the heat of the tropics all at once as his eccentric characters hack their lives out of the wilderness outside Duluth, Minn., between the 1890s and 1920s in Gunflint. Odd is a young fisherman with his own small boat, whose mother died soon after he was born. Raised by the local apothecary owner, Hosea Grimm alongside his daughter Rebekah, Odd strives to make his mark in the rough-around-the-edges town.
Geye’s narration shifts between Thea and Odd’s stories, with Thea’s set during the late 1890s when the town is just beginning and Odd’s story set during the 1920s during prohibition. Earning money and carving out a life from the wilderness is tough work, and Odd begins making whiskey runs for the local bars and Grimm. As the narrative shifts from Odd’s life to Thea’s life, the secrets of Gunflint are revealed slowly. These secrets have lasting consequences for Odd as he falls in love.
“They all looked the same at a glance, so she learned to identify them by their grotesqueries: the missing fingers or hands, the peg legs, the hunch backs, the harelips, the sunken chests, the pruritus and scabies. It seemed as if each of the men possessed some defect or wound.” (page 47)
Although the novel is about the residents of Gunflint, it also is an immigration and pioneering story. The members of Gunflint are the first to hack their lives out of the woods, and Thea is the immigrant from Norway among them, who speaks little to no English when she arrives. Geye once again relies on his abilities to paint a thorough picture of the town and its people, setting the stage for his story — even providing Odd a deformity of his own that mirrors the most prevalent problem in the town, which allows the secrets and lies to grow and fester.
Odd is a man who builds things with his hands, hoping that by building a larger boat he can improve his lot in life and to find a new life with his love. Despite his realization that the town turns a blind eye to the tawdry goings on in town and its festering secrets, he is blind to the myth of the “grass is always greener on the other side.” Geye’s novel is about the glimmer of hope in our lives and how it must be nurtured to bloom, but it also is about holding on too tight to that hope, so tight that it becomes extinguished. Geye has hit another one out of the park with The Lighthouse Road. **Excellent book for book club discussions**
Peter Geye received his MFA from the University of New Orleans and his PhD from Western Michigan University, where he was editor of Third Coast. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and continues to live there with his wife and three children. He is the author of the award winning novels, Safe from the Sea and The Lighthouse Road.
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Safe From the Sea