Books by Laura Chester
<< Books: Fiction
Faber & Faber, 1995
Cloth edition available at Amazon or signed, through the author

“This sweeping American saga follows the destinies of four wealthy Midwestern families who spend their summers on fictional Nogowogotoc Lake in Wisconsin. The story opens at the turn of the century as 14-year old Isabella Wells is washing a statue in a garden of larkspur, dahlias, roses and phlox, when a dog appears with a half-dead capon in its jaws—an apt metaphor for the intrusion of life’s ugliness into the beauty-filled existences of these founders and heirs of beer, dairy and department store fortunes. Chester’s supple prose and eye for sensuous period detail capture well the rhythms of life and death at the lake. She makes it clear through the characters’ joys and suffering that, contrary to Fitzgerald, the rich aren’t different from you and me—and are worthy of the attention and compassion that she lavishes on them in this fine novel.” Publisher’s Weekly.

At the turn of the century, Nogowogotoc Lake was considered the Newport of the Midwest, where some of the most affluent families from Milwaukee and Chicago spent their summers in luxurious "cottages" at the water's edge. The Story of the Lake weaves the tale of four of these families over the course of generations. With each decade another net of history, prejudice, love and intrigue is cast over the surface of the water, creating a more and more intricate pattern.

Joseph Ulrich of Kreuser Beer and his rival, "Pork Packing Prince" Walter Schraeger vie for the hand of Alicia Bosquet, flamboyant newcomer to the scene. Isabella Wells, the reclusive heiress to Milwaukee's finest department store, becomes dangerously involved with Margaret Sanger's early Planned Parenthood crusade, while her sister, Helen, tries to protest the end of Prohibition, a force too great to contend with in the beer loving city of Milwaukee.

This often dark and disturbing American drama is full of gusts of lake air, filling the senses with images and traditions that have mostly slipped away. A personal retelling of family secrets as well as a reflection of the times, The Story of the Lake, is the big passionate family saga that finally gives the Midwest its due.


“The Story of the Lake is a beautifully told tale of families and generations, loves and jealousies, and ordinary people of a charmed time and class. It is full of poignant insights and emotions, just the kind of subtle storytelling we need…I also deeply appreciate a story that presents family in its fullness—the light and the dark, the blessings and curses…” Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, Soul Mates, Dark Nights of the Soul

“The historical scope of the novel is wide, the cast of characters epic. We are in the able hands of a highly omniscient narrator who is especially intriguing when exploring the minds and motivations of her female characters—such as the infamous Alicia Bosquet, who manipulates social mores to her advantage or defies convention if it gets in her way—the Scarlett O’Hara of the 20th Century Midwest.” New York Newsday

“The Story of the Lake is a fully created world. The characters and events are drawn with such clarity and compassion that we will all see ourselves in them. This is a book to curl up with. Pray for rain.” Sherrill Jaffe, author

“This panoramic narrative manages to accommodate a fascinating range of lives, making the history of Wisconsin’s beer baron class a vivid tapestry. The lucid grace of Laura Chester’s writing is always a singular pleasure.” Robert Creeley, poet

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