Vacationing in ‘Vacation Land’

This year’s Page Turners are headed to the cabin up north through the  book “Vacationland.” Photo by Jon Ware

This year’s Page Turners are headed to the cabin up north through the book “Vacationland.”
Photo by Jon Ware

This year’s Page Turners are headed to the cabin up north through the book “Vacationland.”

The Austin Page Turners Committee chose “Vacationland” by author Sarah Stonich for the 14th annual citywide book read. Stonich will come to the Austin Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on March 23 for a quick reception and to speak with the public about her book. She will also take a tour of Austin that day, speak with a class in the morning and have lunch with the Page Turners Committee. Stonich was excited to be invited to Austin.

“I was really thrilled,” Stonich said. “I’m more than happy to come and meet everyone. I like to get a sense of who is reading my books, and it’s a great opportunity to do that.”

FeatureVacationLand“Vacationland” tells the stories of different people who travel to a resort up north for vacation. It follows Meg at the Naledi Lodge, who grew up under her grandfather’s care a lifetime ago. Now an artist, Meg paints images that are similar to the stories of the rest of the characters, including a man from nearby Hatchet Inlet who knew Meg years ago, a Sarajevo refugee sponsored by two parishes who can’t afford “their own refugee,” aged sisters traveling to fulfill a fateful pact once made at the resort, a philandering ad man, a lonely Ojibwa stonemason, and a haiku-spouting girl rescued from a bog.

Page Turners Planning Committee co-chair Bonnie Rietz said the book was chosen out of 20 to 25 other books.

“It’s like a bunch of different stories brought together because of the resort,” Rietz said.

The book had previously been looked at for a past year’s Page Turner’s event, but this year the group decided it was time for the book to be featured in Austin.

“This year what intrigued us about the book was the fact that it’s written about a resort up north,” Reitz said. “And it’s such a part of Minnesotan’s lives.”

Stonich was born in Duluth and lived in the Iron Range northwest of Duluth. She moved to the Twin Cities in 1986, where she worked as a columnist, editor and freelance writer. She was reading other books from small presses and was inspired to write her own.

“What I had been reading made me think that I could write also,” Stonich said.

She started writing in her mid-30s and published her first book, “These Granite Islands” in her 40s. Stonich said with the help of the book “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” by author Betty Smith, she realized writing books was not elite and that she didn’t necessarily have to be a college-graduate in that field.

“A lot of people are prone to be a little fearful of writing, and that book gave me the courage to just write,” she said.

When she wrote “Vacationland,” Stonich wanted Minnesota culture to shine through and challenged the “Prairie Home Companion” model of Minnesota.

“I really wanted to kind of break the stereotypical image of Minnesotans that the rest of the world kind of has,” she said.

She enjoyed the freedom she allowed herself while writing the book, different from her other books that leaned toward more specific topics.

“It was really fun to write in the guise of a number of different characters, and I just allowed myself to be really free while writing it,” Stonich said. “It was the most fun I’ve had writing a book.”

Stonich was also glad to see the book leant itself to both men and women, and has enjoyed attending both men and women’s book clubs. Although the book is not based off any specific people in Stonich’s life, she said the characters are all very real.

Stonich also writes under a few pen names, including Ava Finch. She also enjoys writing crime fiction, and her newest book, which will come out in November, is about a woman who reluctantly lands in the seat of the first all-women’s fishing talk show.

“I really enjoy writing stuff like that,” Stonich said. “It’s a little bit lighter than my other work.”

Stonich doesn’t just write novels; she also does book reviews, some article writing and some advertising work. She is currently working to help pull together a North Shore Readers and Writers Festival which will take place in November in Grand Marais.

Rietz said there will be two other dates as part of the event this year. One event is a lecture-lunch with Richard Campbell about the structure, theme and symbol in Vacationland, over the lunch hour at Riverland Community College. The second event will be at 7 p.m., March 16 at the Ruby Rupner Auditorium in the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center and will feature Ren Holland, author of “The Early Resorts of Minnesota.”

Books by Sarah Stonich


Naledi Lodge sits on a lake in northernmost Minnesota with only two cabins still standing, its pathways now trodden mostly by memories. Meg, or the ghost of the girl she was, grew up under her grandfather’s care in a world apart and a lifetime ago. Now an artist, Meg paints images “reflected across the mirrors of memory and water,” much as the linked stories of Vacationland cast shimmering spells across distance and time.

Those whose paths have crossed at Naledi inhabit Vacationland: a man from nearby Hatchet Inlet who knew Meg back when, a Sarajevo refugee sponsored by two parishes who can’t afford “their own refugee,” aged sisters traveling to fulfill a fateful pact once made at the resort, a philandering ad man, a lonely Ojibwe stonemason, and a haiku-spouting girl rescued from a bog.


Sarah Stonich’s family had once owned land — an island in Lake Vermilion that was lost after the Depression—and while her father still managed to give his daughters the quintessential Minnesota cabin experience, it was on a patch of leased land.

Long after her father passed away, a newly divorced Stonich finds herself yearning for a piece of land to call her own, that perfect spot on a lake, tall pines, a sense of permanence, a legacy for her son, and a connection to her paternal heritage.

“Perfect” turns out to be roadless, raw wilderness near where her immigrant grandparents settled a century before and where the family name is now a postscript. Stonich recalls stories of her relatives, meets admirable and remarkable characters in the community, considers another go at love, and, finally, builds a small cabin. But when “progress” threatens to slice her precious patch of land in half, she must come to terms with the fact that a family legacy is no less valuable with or without a piece of earth.

 “These Granite Islands”

From her hospital bed, 99-year-old Isobel Howard recalls her unexpected friendship with Cathryn, a childless, Chicago-born heiress who shunned her family, attended art school and married an Irishman with no pedigree. During the summer of 1936, the women find themselves alone in Cypress, Minnesota, a mining town on the edge of a glacier-fed lake. Isobel is the wife of a tailor, mother of three young children and a milliner by training. Her husband, Victor has taken their two boys away to an island he has purchased — an extravagance that has become a sore point in their marriage. Left behind with her quiet daughter, Louisa, Isobel revives her interest in hat-making. During their shared days, Cathryn introduces Isobel to literature, art and a more cosmopolitan view of life, ultimately making Isobel an accomplice to the affair she is having with a local forest ranger. But there is a darker side to this idyll, and as the elderly Isobel reflects on the ensuing events, it is clear that this summer has exacted a heavy price.

 The Ice Chorus

Liselle never meant to fall in love. When she accompanied her archaeologist husband on a dig in Mexico, she didn’t expect to meet Charlie—a talented, fiercely intelligent painter who sees her in a way that her husband never has. Liselle enters into a brief but intense affair with him that shocks her into living again. Liselle then travels to a remote village on the west coast of Ireland. She gradually becomes acquainted with some of the locals, whose wholehearted charm and colorful stories revive her spirits and inspire her to make a documentary about their interwoven tales of romance. While she explores her fascinating new surroundings, Liselle comes to confront her own tumultuous past and her feelings for Charlie, the Welsh painter who rekindled her passions in Mexico, realizing that to tell the stories of others, she must first reveal her own.


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