“A Northern Light”
A Northern Light is a historical novel based around the Big Moose Lake murder case of 1906. It could be considered a version of Theodore Dreisers An American Tragedy, although Donnelly's book is concerned less with the murder itself and more with the life of a young girl who gets caught up in it..
In the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, the book is about on the life of a 16-year-old girl named Mattie Gorky. She is the oldest daughter of a widowed farmer, and with that title comes enormous responsibilities on the farm. The problem is that she does not want to be a farm girl all her life. She is a very talented writer, and her teacher's involvement has led to her being accepted on scholarship to Barnard College in New York City. She faces a crossroads decision in her life: does she stay home and honor a promise made to her dying mother, or does she leave to follow her own dream?
In the midst of this decision, Mattie gets a summer job at a lodge on Big Moose Lake. It is there were she meets Grace Brown, who hands her a bundle of letters on the pretense that Mattie is to destroy them. Later, before Mattie can carry out the task, Grace turns up dead in the lake. Mattie, unable to quell her curiosity, begins reading the letters. As she pieces together Grace's life and realizes why she ended up dead, Mattie is also able to come to terms with her own place in life and what she needs to do. While the murder case in the book is a true one, some liberties were taken by Donnelly. Most notably, Grace hands Mattie both letters that Chester Gillette had written to her and letters that she had written to Chester. In reality, Grace was only in possession of the letters Chester wrote to her; the letters from Grace to Chester were discovered later. Since her mother’s death, things have gotten difficult, and words seem her only solace. She reads every moment she can, and dreams of going to college in New York City. More than anything, she...