I finally got to read Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright, just a few months after I stated my intention to read it for the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge. It’s the only read-aloud we’ve finished this so far this summer due to our move and lots of general busy-ness, but it turns out that it couldn’t have been a more perfect read for us. The story is a summer story, after all. It’s the story of Portia and Julian, cousins who discover a deserted neighborhood of old houses bordering a lake-turned-swamp. It turns out that a pair of siblings who spent their childhood summers there have returned to spend their golden years in their old neighborhood. Minnehaha Cheever and Pindar Payton are a lovable and eccentric pair, and they make Portia and Julian’s summer interesting and adventurous. Enright’s descriptions are delectable, as always, and the story’s continued appeal is as much owing to her powers of characterization as they are to the story itself. I don’t love this one as much as I love the Melendys, but I’m definitely glad I read it, and we’ve already continued with the sequel, Return to Gone-Away.
Here are a few excerpts that I enjoyed in particular. I hope these will whet your appetite for Enright’s delightful stories!
This description is from the first time the children see the inside of Mrs. Cheever’s home:
Their first impression was one of density. A large herd of furniture grazed on a red carpet; each wall was covered with a different kind of wallpaper, one patterned with roses, one with ferns, one with stripes, and the fourth, Julian thought, with things that looked like bunches of broccoli. On the wallpaper many large pictures stared out of heavy frames. The windows in the room were half hidden by plants and vines in hanging baskets and curtained with old dark velvet portieres. Everything that could have a cover on it had one. An upright piano in one corner stared out from under a draped arrangement of fringed plush like a severe Turkish lady. All the tables had covers on them, of course, and the chairs and couches each had a collar and a set of cuffs. (39)
For some reason I love descriptions of houses and rooms, and this is a particularly good one.
A couple of phrases and sentences I particularly like:
. . . mosquitoes, tuned like peevish violins, approached and departed. . . (81)
Her white hair, curled in multitides of little pleaty ridges, was dressed in a pompadour, and on top, like a small vessel on a choppy sea, a red velvet bow was riding. (37)
I love this description of Mrs. Brace-Gideon, one of the more memorable denizens of Gone Away in its prime:
She was waht you might call imposing. Yes, indeed she was. Her hats were loaded with roses or plumes, and her fingers were with jewels: oh, diamonds as big as that! Rubies! An emerald like a spoonful of mint jelly! And she had a lot of necklaces looped over her chest: Venetian glass beads, pearls, gold chains. There was a sort of solidness about her. I can’t describe it. Even her hair, the way she wore it, looked solid, like one of the round, dark loaves of pumpernickel we used to see at the Vogelharts’. . . (195)
We give this one a Highly Recommended. (Harcourt, 1957)