The Lake” is a work of beauty—a short story of the highest order. It elevates the reader, transporting him to a golden place. It’s about your first love—your first death. It’s a Mona Lisa, set to words.

Everyone should read this story.

It was written by Ray Bradbury in 1944. It’s semi-autobiographical, based on an encounter that Bradbury had as a child. He later said that “The Lake” was a pivotal work –  the story that made him realize he was a great writer. The story that gave him the confidence to continue.

Bradbury (at 2:25 of the video): “When I finished the short story, I burst into in tears. I realized that after ten years of writing, I’d finally written something beautiful.”

Plot Summary

We meet a young boy in love with a young girl – his first “crush.” Together, they build sand castles on the beach: she half and he half. But one day, the girl drowns. She leaves the boy wondering where she went: What is death? Why do young people die?

Years later, the boy (now a man) returns to the spot of her death. He finds a sand castle, half finished. She’s been there, leaving a powerful metaphor of her death.

Your first love is like a sand castle; it’s a thing of beauty, yet destined to be washed away.

Excerpts

The book is full of beautiful lines:

All the hot dog stands were boarded up with strips of golden planking, sealing in the mustard, onions, meat odors of the long, joyful summer. It was like nailing summer into a series of coffins.

I love the simile—closing up a hot dog stand on the beach is like “nailing summer into a series of coffins.” I remember when I used to eat hot dogs as a child. They were glorious, the most perfect of foods.

As adults, we know that hot dogs are garbage…but don’t tell that to a child.

Being alone is a newness to a twelve-year-old child. He is so used to people about. The only way he can be alone is in his mind. There are so many people around, telling children what to do, how to do, that a boy has to run off down a beach, even if it’s only in his head, to get by himself in his own world.

Do you remember being alone as a child?  I remember how powerless I felt. Yet at the same time, it was magical. As Bradbury points out, there was a “newness.” The solitude of youth is like a playground, a place for your thoughts to run free.

Water is like a magician. Sawing you in half. It feels as if you were cut in two, part of you, the lower part, sugar, melting, dissolving away.

Children are fascinated with the beach. They understand a golden quality, a magical element. Bradbury captures it well. Water that’s “melting” and “dissolving away.” Cutting you in half…

I was only twelve. But I know how much I loved her. It was that love that comes before all significance of body and morals. It was that love that is no more bad than wind and sea and sand lying side by side forever.

The beauty of your first love. No explanation, no justification. A girl that embodies human perfection – you love her so much that it hurts. It’s like a flower that’s unfolding, painful yet glorious: the most beautiful love you can feel.

Your first love is a sand castle that lives in your mind.

I was grown. But she has not changed. She is still small. She is still young. Death does not permit growth or change. She still has golden hair. She will be forever young and I will love her forever, oh God, I will love her forever.

The irony of those that die young. They suffer a bitter fate. Yet they are forever young in our minds, immortal…always strong, always healthy.

There, at the water’s edge, lay a sand castle, only half-built. Just like Tally and I used to build them. She half and I half…I built the rest up very slowly, then I turned away and walked off, so as to not watch it crumble in the waves, as all things crumble.

Love is the pinnacle of emotions. But what makes it beautiful is not strength; it’s weakness. Love is temporal and random.  A fleeting emotion. So when we find it, almost by accident, we clutch at it. For a moment we’re elevated and we touch the golden wings.

Your first love will always be, in many ways, your greatest love.

Summary

I recommend this short story. Ray Bradbury is famous for his science fiction, but stories like “The Lake” show him to be much more; he was a teacher of humanity, a spiritual guide on the highway of life. He was an American treasure.

See Related Material: Book Review: Victory Secrets of Attila the Hun

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