Author Elaine Kozak opens her novel, The Lighthouse, with prodigal daughter Leah Larsen’s coming home to Taos, New Mexico, after learning of her mother’s death from cancer. Leah steps back into a complex family and legacy with unresolved issues, secrets, and sorrows.
Ten years have passed since Leah ran away at 16, soon after giving her illegitimate baby up for adoption. She returns to the Lighthouse, the resort her grandfather built and where her family resides when not in Vancouver, seeking reconciliation and understanding from her rigid father, celebrated composer Fin Larsen. She rejoices in reconnecting with her aunt and uncle, who run the Lighthouse, grieves her mother’s loss, and tries to come to terms with her past. Throughout, unexpected twists abound, including the possibility that Leah might meet the child she abandoned as well as open herself to an unforeseen romance.
The Lighthouse is richly detailed and beautifully told with many layers of history, viewpoints, and mysteries, each revealed and resolved with perfect timing. Kozak is a master of showing the characters’ inner lives and writing richly evocative scenes, such as when Leah first arrives at the Lighthouse, and “for a brief moment she felt her grandfather’s presence, like a muscle rippling under the grainy warmth of the structure’s adobe skin.”
Only two passages disappoint. The first is when, soon after Leah begins assimilating back into her family’s life, the narrative shifts to show the other family members’ histories and points of view, leaving readers wondering what’s happening in Leah’s life. The second arrives at a pivotal moment as Leah confronts a troubling person from her past; the scene and details are incomplete and rushed, making this crucial character seem two-dimensional, unlike the other fully rendered characters in the story.
Despite these lapses, The Lighthouse is a well-wrought, multi-generational family saga inhabited by people readers care about. Its tight plot, well-paced narrative, emotionally resonant characters, and rich language make it hard to put down.
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