One Night at the Lake: A Novel, by Bethany Chase
Publication: Ballantine Books (June 18, 2019)
About the book:
A tragedy on a hot summer night at a lake house forever alters the lives of two best friends—and the man they both love. But the truth isn’t as simple as it appears in this intricate novel of love, friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness.
Leah has been waiting for this moment a long time: Her boyfriend, Ollie, is taking her to his family’s home on Seneca Lake for a week of lazy summer bliss, boating, and barbeque. The couple has been together four years, and Leah is convinced that Ollie is finally going to pop the question. Leah can’t wait to share the joyous news with her best friend, June, who is joining them on their getaway, and whose presence will make everything feel more real.
Seven years later, the moment June has been dreading has finally arrived: Her fiancé, Ollie, is taking her to his family’s lake house. But this is not an ordinary visit to an ordinary place; it is a house haunted by June’s long-buried memories of her lost friend Leah—and the connection that appears to remain between Leah and the man for whom June’s love is as deep as her grief.
Alternating between the two women’s vibrant voices, One Night at the Lake is an emotional novel that explores a complex tangle of friendship, loyalty, and betrayal, all driving toward one question: Can love overcome what happened on that hot summer night?
I had planned to read and review this one prior to the publication date, but I’m a few days late! This one kept me completely engrossed as I sat out on my deck yesterday afternoon enjoying the gorgeous weather. The only thing better would have been if I had taken it with me to the lake last week.
This novel is told from the points of view of Leah and her best friend June, switching back and forth between the present and their trip to the lake seven years ago. It takes no time to understand that June is Leah’s best friend and Ollie is Leah’s boyfriend of four years, and the three of them are thick as thieves. When June’s boyfriend breaks up with her right before their vacation, Leah invites June to join them at Seneca Lake for the week to visit with Ollie’s family, where she is hoping that Ollie is going to propose to her. Then seven years later, told from June’s point of view, she is also preparing to visit Seneca for the week, with her fiance Ollie, and she’s nervous as hell about it. See what happened here? Ollie was with Leah but is now engaged to June. Hmmmmm.
One Night at the Lake is certainly a character driven novel, however, there is enough depth to the plot that it’s not just about the ins and outs of the characters. There’s no huge twist or “aha” moment, but there’s ample conflict to hold your interest in this one.
Leah is a live wire, intelligent, funny, passionate, and as June and Ollie describe her years later, “she really lived.” I was crazy about Leah’s character and the enthusiastic view she had on life. She loved fiercely, enjoyed the little things, and reluctantly admitted her mistakes.
June is struggling not only with returning to the lake for the first time in seven years, but her overall relationship with Ollie. She misses her best friend desperately, feels guilty for being with the man that Leah had hoped to marry, but also resentful because she constantly wonders, “is he only with me because she’s no longer in our lives?”
Ollie was a challenge for me to get a handle on, most likely because I got to know June and Leah more easily as the book was written from their points of view. I never doubted that he loved Leah and never doubted that he loved June. But something was missing with him that didn’t make him as perfect and fabulous as the two narrators appeared to think he was. His parents initially seemed like perfection as far as parents go, but I quickly realized there was some serious dysfunction going on regarding Ollie’s father and Ollie’s half-brother, which I never really understood.
So, the bulk of this book is getting to know these characters during the different time periods, what challenges they face, how they are resolved, and so on. As I said earlier, there’s no huge build-up and suspense and shocking resolution in this one, although things are finally explained about why June is now with Ollie and not Leah. Chase definitely had me thinking over this situation long after I finished reading. I’m still not sure how I feel about Ollie and June being together. Each character was so different to me during the present time in the novel versus Leah’s point of view from seven years ago. Of course, people grow, mature, and change over seven years, but there was a punk missing from each of them. Then there was the epilogue where Leah talks about her heart almost exploding from love (when describing her favorite day), and it made me smile. But then I paused and felt sad for her coveting a moment so much that may have felt completely different for June and/or Ollie.
As always, Bethany Chase’s writing is beautiful in One Night at the Lake. She has created wonderfully unique and complex characters, an original plot, this one held my interest from beginning to end. This book is about love, overall, whether romantic, friends, or family. If you need those big moments of revelation in your novels, this may not be for you, but I definitely recommend this one to fan’s of Women’s Fiction and for those that love books that really make you think while reading.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Ballentine Books for providing this digital copy in exchange for my honest review!