cover image Cormorant Lake

Cormorant Lake

Faith Merino. Blackstone, $26.99 (198p) ISBN 978-1-982640-07-1

In Merino’s contrived, mystical debut, a 30-something woman abducts a pair of young neglected children. Evelyn Van Pelt discovers her roommate Erin has abandoned her toddler daughter, Mora, in their Riverside, Calif., bathtub. Horrified, Evelyn takes Mora and Mora’s older sister, Lila, to stay with Nan, the woman who raised her, in Cormorant Lake, Wash. Evelyn admits her crime to Nan, explaining that Erin would frequently disappear, so much so that the girls started calling Evelyn “mama.” At Nan’s, Evelyn tries to stifle feelings of guilt over taking Erin’s children, but it manifests in unsettling moments that make her believe Erin is nearby, manipulating nature. Then Nan starts leaving the girls unsupervised while Evelyn is away at one of her two menial jobs, and the reader learns Nan is communing with the ghost of Clare, a girl Nan had grown up with. Months later, Evelyn’s long-absent mother, Jubilee, shows up and moves in with them, and the four attempt to carve out a makeshift family while Evelyn and Nan remain haunted in their own ways. While the prose is a bit overwrought and full of oblique metaphors about wayward mothers, the author builds tension around the uncertain outcome of Evelyn’s rash decision to take the children and Nan’s increasingly dangerous interactions with Clare’s ghost. Still, this slight story fails to cohere. (Feb.)