BY THE LAKE

By Ana Ingham
Hove, England: Waterloo Press, 1998
97 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
April 2009

BY THE LAKE is a touching, sad and gripping small book. It is more a novella or even long short story than a novel. Itís 97 pages is a quick read, but emotionally powerful and left me with a sort of empty or nervous feeling inside.

Thomas, a 39 year old radio reporter lives in West Berlin in 1989 just before the wall fell. He is on the verge of losing his job. He is alone, lonely, deeply concerned about his future, and wishing for all the world he had a woman to love, or at least make love to. Carol, an America of German ancestry, about the same age as Thomas, is in Berlin to see the world from which her father, a former Nazi, but successful American scientist, had come. She has just broken up with her female lover and, like Thomas, is asea in life, empty, hurting and wishing for something meaningful to happen.

They meet by chance when Carol is at the same building where he lives. On a lark Thomas invites her to coffee and we spend the next 12 hours of so with them.

The story proceeds slowly, punctuated by flashbacks in Carolís life, and stories told her by Thomas of his earlier days. They are somewhat uncomfortable with each other, but slowly open up and grow closer.

I sensed this was a special day and that they would have no future as friends or especially lovers, yet the need emanating out of each was palpable, and certainly I expected they would have to cling to each other at least this day, perhaps a short time after. We never learn this, we are with them just this one short day.

This is the fourth book Iíve read of Ana Ingham and Iíve come to have great respect for her ability to give us living portraits of ordinary people, usually people who are hurting, somewhat lost, searching, wishing, hoping for more out of life. Her characters are often not very pleasant people, seldom folks Iíd want to spend much time with. Yet they are vibrantly real, human and suffering. The people I may not like, but as literary creations they are just brilliant, sensitive, often touching, making these relatively troubled, even broken people, come to us a tragic visions of the human need for meaning and relationship.

While I loved this little book very much, it was a mess of a publication. There were more printing errors and other curiosities of production than in any other book I have written comments about in the 300 + such commentaries I have on my web page. Such errors are bothersome to me, but, perhaps it was even more evidence of the power of this short tale that I waded right through those errors, noting them and groaning at them, but setting them aside in my mind in order to follow the development of the revelations of the inner lives of Thomas and Carol.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu