By Jeffrey Sanzel
Brian Muff’s debut novel combines elements of horror with the everyday challenges of being a teenager. Set on Long Island, Lady of the Lake (Thewordverve Inc.) tells of a high school student’s rescue of her boyfriend from the clutches of an angry spirit.
For the first time in her life, Miley Monroe is feeling good about herself. Having struggled with body image issues, she has managed to find a sense of self. She no longer has braces, her acne has cleared up, glasses have been traded for contact lenses, and, most importantly, she has found the perfect partner in the kind and handsome Braden.
The novel begins with the couple swimming in Lake Ronkonkoma. In a surge of teenage love (and hormones), she loses her virginity. Following this aquatic tryst, they pay for the moral transgression in a traditionally leaning trope: Braden is dragged under the water by a demonic entity, the figure of a woman with red eyes and a “devilish grin.”
Miley awakens two weeks later having been in a coma. Her parents, and, in particular, her police chief father, believe she was raped by Braden, who has now disappeared to avoid pursuit and prosecution. Of course, her claim that Braden was carried away by a demon from the depths is met with expected incredulity. This is exacerbated by her parents’ dislike of Braden along with their conviction that he was a distraction and a negative force in her life.
She returns to school where she faces anger on all sides. The students refuse to accept the rumors that her father has circulated about Braden’s assaulting her. There is an interesting Scarlet Letter element that overlaid on the traditional thriller plot. The student body — clearly “Team Braden”— turns against her. The reaction is a complicated one that raises issues of victims, accusers, and perception. In the midst of this, Miley is emotionally damaged and retreating into herself. With no support, she is living in a place of grief and roiling anger. “Instead of saying ‘Woe’s me,’ Miley was now asking ‘Why me?’”
She unburdens herself to Quentin Maxwell, a geeky, awkward, but well-meaning intellectual. Quentin and his scientist father Quincy are both well-versed with the legend of the Lady of the Lake and believe in “things that go bump in the night.”
It began in 1665 with English settlers colonizing Long Island and interacting with Native American tribes who had been indigenous to the area for thousands of years. The lore swirls around the Ronkonkoma tribe that held the northern side of Lake Ronkonkoma, where Lake Shore Road is today. Quentin relates the ill-fated romance of Princess Tuscawonta and Englishman Hugh Birdsall. The illicit affair ended up with Birdsall’s murder and the Princess’s suicide in the lake where her spirit now seeks revenge by imprisoning hapless males who make the mistake of coming too close.
Miley joins forces with the Maxwells, who formulate a plan which goes incredibly wrong. From this point on, the action accelerates into a blend of body snatching and resurrection, morality versus mortality. There is also just enough of the hint of mad science: “Pandora’s Box transformed into a solved Rubik’s Cube, and the solution’s pathway was illuminated. The answer was all in the DNA.”
In addition to the looming supernatural stresses that are invading both her waking and sleeping existence, Muff gives an added dose of reality with Miley’s pregnancy that further strains her already tenuous home life. This shade of reality contrasts with the more fantastical actions.
Muff’s writing is uncluttered: it is brisk and succinct. He also provides enough detail to flesh out the characters, making Miley a dimensional and honest portrait. He strives to explore interpersonal family dynamics but never loses sight of the driving arc of the narrative.
For all of the magic and myth, Lady of the Lake is ultimately not about vengeance but reconciliation. It is a tale of love, both for the Lady of the Lake and for Miley.
A resident of Port Jefferson Station, author Brian Muff’s love of books began when he started reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn aloud to his parents at age five. Throughout his teenage years, Brian developed an interest in writing – specifically scary stories – that would continue to grow as he entered college. After graduating Farmingdale State College as valedictorian and obtaining an MBA from Stony Brook University, he put his career on hold to finish working on Lady of the Lake.
Pick up your copy at Book Revue in Huntington, thewordverve.com, Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.