Moonlight on Butternut Lake is Mary McNear's third novel set in the northern Minnesota community, but each one stands alone. Main characters appear in minor roles in subsequent novels, but the leads change. And, Mila Jones, the lead in this story, appears for the first time in a story that focuses on abusers and the power they have over their victims. It's also a story of two lonely, needy people.
When Mila Jones accepts a summer job as home health aide for Reid Ford, she's warned that she's the third aide in a short period of time. Reid is a difficult, uncooperative patient. But, Mila's desperate to escape her abusive husband, and she can't think of anyplace better to run to than an isolated lake in northern Minnesota. She wasn't prepared, though, to feel so "alone, afraid, exhausted, overwhelmed, and lonely".
Reid wants nothing to do with anyone, and just sits in his room and broods. But, when night comes, he relives his car accident, one that left him trapped in the car for three days waiting for rescue. Even before the accident, though, Reid was an angry man, a workaholic desperate to prove something to the father that deserted him and his younger brother years earlier. Now, while he's temporarily in a wheelchair over the summer, he ponders his past. He also watches the young woman assigned to care for him, a young woman who appears wounded and frightened.
McNear portrays her two damaged and broken people with gentleness. She shows the childhood and marriage that led Mila to Butternut Lake; the troubled childhood, and the manipulative, abusive husband she married. And, she allows Reid to reveal himself to his brother, to tell the secrets that haunt him in his dreams. Mila sees her job as "the blind leading the blind". But, these two troubled souls may eventually find a way to help each other heal.
Moonlight on Butternut Lake may anger you at times. Mila works so hard to move past her upbringing that her relationship and subsequent marriage are troubling. And, it's difficult to watch her husband manipulate her. But, it's a novel that will catch your attention. It's a quiet story of two people reaching beyond their past histories, trying to find something better.
Moonlight on Butternut Lake by Mary McNear. William Morrow. 2015. ISBN 9780062283184 (paperback), 384p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received this book to review for a journal, and reviewed it here as part of a TLC Book Tour.