Across The Lake by Deborah Eisenberg, 1993
The magic trick:
Establishing tension for 30 pages before surprising the reader with a different release point than expected
After three stories this week from Eisenberg’s 2006 collection, Twilight Of The Superheroes, we go back a decade for today’s feature. It’s a good one. “Across The Lake” is another slow burn. It’s all about tone. There is a feeling of physical danger, sexual tension and the guilt that comes with privilege playing tourist.
And those vibes are so intriguing and well-done here that you don’t much mind that you’ve been reading for 30 pages without really getting a feel for where this is going. The tension builds and builds. Then suddenly at the end when it’s released, the control mechanism is shocking.
And that’s quite a trick on Eisenberg’s part.
Down at the dock the children clung to him, their eyes huge, their tiny hands searching for his pockets. A skinny monkey of a boatman with bare feet and torn, rolled-up pants was collecting the last fares. Rob squinted back at the village: green, fog, glints of tin. But he! Yes, they were all exposed down here at the dock, pinned behind the hidden crosshairs.
Across the lake a cluster of boxy buildings, all no bigger than his fingernail, floated in a disk of harsh blue. Hard to believe town was so close, that he and Suky and Mick had been there only this morning. Hard to believe that he was simply going back there now, to the loud, junky restaurants; to the strained, moribund, fever-pitch cheer of ladinos and gringos vacationing… Time to get up, time to get up…
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