Author: Vic Cavalli

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

ISBN: 978-1-941861-40-0

My on-screen dictionary defines "symbol" as "a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract: the limousine was another symbol of his wealth and authority." I've been thinking about this because the blurb on the back of Vic Cavalli's novel, The Road to Vermillion Lake, says that the "greatest strength of this work lies in the author's sure handling of the symbolic landscape." I'm not sure what that means, nor am I sure, having read the book, that there is "a highly suggestive internal movement, governed by a set of symbols linking the subjective and objective worlds." I've wondered about readers who find symbols in my writing. If I did not intend a landscape or a character to represent something abstract, is it really a symbol? Without asking the author what he/she intended, we're on our own. In any case, I found The Road to Vermillion Lake to be an interesting effort.

The story is narrated throughout by Tom Tems, who at the beginning of the novel is a blaster's helper and first-aid attendant. The company cuts a road through the Canadian Rockies to pristine Vermillion Lake where a developer is constructing a resort village designed by Ms. Johnny Nostal, an environmental architect from New York who turns out to be 25 years old and gorgeous—red hair, green eyes. Tom and Johnny meet when she visits the job site (she is, after all, responsible for the entire project) and on their second evening together she informs him she is a virgin and, "If we end up getting married, it will be in the Catholic Church and our kids will be raised Catholic. That's not negotiable."

There is a complication, however. Johnny has a sister Sally. Tom had exchanged some chaste kisses with Sally on the road to Vermillion Lake, but Sally has disappeared. Apparently, on her way to see Tom, she was killed in one of the blasts set off to build the road.

But no. She was injured and has lost her memory. She doesn't know who she is, that she has a sister, that she planned to spend quiet time in a convent after visiting Tom, or that she's been romanced by Tom's friend Dave. Once she's been identified, the best thing for her is to go to New York and live with Johnny, perhaps to recover her memory.

Tom suggests that Vermillion Lake Village could offer residents a shooting range. And not one range but three designed for international big-money competition. The money people agree this is a good idea and halfway through the book Tom buys a "Sako TRG 42 .338 Lupua Mag rifle (topped with a state of the art Mark 4 ER/T 8.5-25x50mm Leupold scope)" and all the equipment he needs to load his own cartridges with "Sierra 250 grain Hollow Point Boat Talk MatchKing" bullets. Out on the range he's able to put 20 shots into a pattern the size of an apple at 1,000 meters. (When he visits Johnny's mother in South Bend, Indian, for her approval of the wedding, she is delighted to learn that "You own and shoot a Sako TRG 42 .338 Lupua Mag rifle? . . . You have my blessing, Tom.") 

Tom's friend Dave who had been chasing Sally switched his attentions to Carol, "around 24 or 25, maybe 5'6" tall, long blonde disheveled hair, very attractive face with heavy makeup, especially large eyelashes and bright red lipstick, firm natural breasts under a tiny pink tank top, and super-short blue jean cutoffs . . . " Dave however has apparently died from an overdose and when Tom breaks this news to Carol, she comes on to him, indeed comes close enough that he can read the heart-shaped medallion between her breasts: "I swallow." 

Not only does he reject Carol's invitation to "a promise of certain pleasure," he introduces her to the woman he loves and Carol and Johnny become fast friends. Tom's fortitude in resisting Carol gives Johnny one more reason to trust and love him. He is someone who needs a good woman. He had a difficult childhood: "I remember sitting at our white, swirled veneer kitchen table, the fly tape hanging like an impotent noose over the sticky counter, the bare hot-white bulb swaying slightly on a chain cord above us, the vehicles below us on Plier Avenue growling by in clusters through the snow—leaving cylinders of silence—and my drunk mother explaining . . . " how his drunken father vanished from their lives.

We don't learn a lot about the landscape. Vermillion Lake is in the mountains and over the course of the novel seismic activity shakes down granite boulders disrupting work on the development. Toward the end of the book a volcano erupts to form an island in the lake, which, now that I think about it, might symbolize—or echo—Tom and Johnny's sexual activity. The Road to Vermillion Lake may not be for everyone, but it has provoked more thought than many of the novels I've read recently.