Who wouldn’t want a Lake Beulah to love? As described by author Peter A. Sonderegger, it’s a summer home dream, providing long, lazy days of boating, neighbors who become fast friends, and a place to cast for fish from the shade of a willow tree. Such idyllic scenes – and the fates of several families – propel Sonderegger’s book, Five Generations on Lake Beulah.
While Lake Beulah is a real place and Sonderegger writes that he has enjoyed it all his life, the copyright page notes that this is a work of fiction. The story opens in the Depression era as the Jansen, Duncan and Conway families arrive, kids in tow. (It’s challenging to keep family relationships straight; more characters gather here than murder suspects in an Agatha Christie novel.) As the families grow closer at the lovely lake, their fates are complicated by sudden tragedy.
While the author stirs his plot, Midwestern readers will appreciate Sonderegger’s localized touches as he writes of catching the train to Chicago, buying Usinger sausages, and falling in love over dinner, waiting for the sauerbraten to arrive. Despite such appealing observations, however, his narrative tends to flounder with too much detail, and some stories drift into plot limbo. The author is also prone to mood-robbing understatement. After a key plot turn (a horrific accident), for example, there is this: “The policeman was feeling badly about what happened to the lady…”
Given Sonderegger’s background — journalism, advertising and developing outdoors magazines — one wishes he had more fully described the unique setting of Lake Beulah itself. Still, he ultimately delivers his main story — the resolution, over 60 years, of a multi-family tragedy. He does it with the determination and sincerity of purpose he probably used, once upon a time, to reel in Lake Beulah bass from the shade of a willow tree.
BlueInk Heads Up: This book will have special appeal to Upper Midwesterners who cherish the tradition of a summer lake home, especially those who grew up in the southeastern Wisconsin and Chicago areas.