Book Review: A haunting novel

lax book

Rosalie Grosch
Arden Hills, Minn.

Powerfully written, hauntingly beautiful, and touching, The Year That Trembled is a vivid word picture of the troubling times young people faced living in the Vietnam War years.

Events in Scott Lax’s moving debut novel are narrated through the observations and experiences of Casey Pedersen, one of four young men who have recently graduated from high school. The four of them find an old house to rent in an idyllic setting, aptly called Little Meadow. Left uncultivated for years, the land had returned to what it once had been, a peaceful place for nature to reclaim its own. A newly married couple rents an old house nearby and together the six young people search for the meaning of life, a meaning that would find itself in nature, music, spirituality, friendship, and love.

The varying personalities of each one come to life as they search for that which brings them pleasure, at least momentary pleasure. Questions, conflict, and pain tear away at the dailyness of living when forced to grow up quickly.

In the midst of the natural tranquility found in Little Meadow, the tumult of the world around rages. The Vietnam War is a dark shadow hanging over all of the young people. Feeling that their lives are in the hands of the people in Washington, D.C., fear of the unknown takes control. The Selective Service Lottery, the process by which young men would be drafted, is just days away. Reckless partying and living for the moment become a disguise for the uncertainty and fear looming before all of them. Surely one of them would have his number called and he would be the unlucky one, marching into the darkness of the seemingly senseless Vietnam War.

The novel not only looks into the lives of the very young men but also searches the emotions of the women who love them and fear losing what they have when they are left behind. Nothing seems permanent, not even deep love. “Grab that which is in front of you” seems to be their marching orders. What seems frivolous to one of them in the group becomes something of deep importance to another. Support and wisdom come from the most unlikely one in the group.

Do the young people ever discover the meaning of life? Perhaps not yet, as the wounds of war are too fresh. But they are encouraged to push on and realize that things will return to normal. War will end. Living for the moment will seem a thing of the past as they find a way to engage in life at a deeper level.

If one were to create a painting of this novel, one would need to use psychedelic colors, colors that jump out at you but clash with each other. All would be painted against a black background with just a hint of light up in the right-hand corner. Scott Lax has brilliantly created a word picture that does just this. He has also produced a feature film version of the novel and has written a stage play version that has been produced.

I used the words “hauntingly beautiful” at the beginning of this review. I find that days after finishing this novel those words still roll around in my heart. One can’t help but feel deep empathy not only for the young people in this novel, facing a world of uncertainty, but also for all the young men and women today who live with fear of the unknown.

The Year That Trembled was published in 1998. Both it and his second novel, Vengeance Follows, are available from publisher Gray & Company at Scott Lax is a Norwegian American living in Ohio, and both his novels feature Norwegian American protagonists.

Rosalie Grangaard Grosch was born into a Norwegian/American family in Decorah, Iowa. A graduate of Luther College, she taught music and English in American schools, taught English and developed a team teaching program in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and was a drama/music/English teacher in Lae, Papua New Guinea and Activity Director/Consultant for a long term care facility in St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minn. She is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul and has written numerous articles for publication.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 8, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.