Once in a Blue Moon Lodge by Lorna Landvik is like catnip for me. It’s the story of first, second, and third generation Scandinavian immigrants in Minnesota. The Rolvaag family in her book came from Norway. My grandparents came from Sweden, but except for Ole and Lena jokes and Syttende Mai, ethnic differences between Swedes and Norwegians are minimal in the ethnic enclave where my family settled. Everyone says “Uffda” more easily than “Damn” and has more than a casual acquaintance, fond or not, with lutefisk and lefse. After all, the most important phrase “mer kaffe” is the same in both languages.
Once in a Blue Moon Lodge is the sequel to Patty Jane’s House of Curl, telling the story of Nora, Patty Jane’s daughter. Patty Jane is still there and so is her mother-in-law, the family matriarch Ione. It begins when Patty Jane retires and sells her House of Curl, Etc. Nora has been the Etc for some time and is feeling at loose ends. An impromptu winter camping trip and a surprise trip to Norway lead to encounters with two men who dramatically change her life. While in Norway, she is offered the chance to buy a lakeside lodge from an eccentric and at Patty Sue’s urging jumps on it…and so the Once in a Blue Moon Lodge came to be.
A new generation of the family is born and grow to adulthood in this book that takes us from 1988 to the present. It’s a multi-generational family story and friends and family grow old and die. There are challenges to overcome, including sickness, old age, disability and depression. It’s the circle of life that makes us laugh and cry and laugh again. Through it all, the Rolvaag family is blessed and protected by the love they have for each other and their can-do spirit.
If you’re from Minnesota, a second, third, or even fourth generation Scandinavian American, you are likely to enjoy Once in a Blue Moon Lodge. If you are not, you might find it a bit self-indulgent and silly. But then, if you like Fannie Flagg’s madcap family stories, you will also love Landvik. This is not a book that takes itself too seriously. It presents Minnesota Nice at its curious, open-hearted best.
There’s a tradition of Scandinavian immigrant fiction that is long and rich in family sagas that span several books. The classics are O. E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth series and Vilhelm Moberg’s The Emigrants series. For a more sentimental view, there is Thyra Ferré Björn’s stories of the Franzon’s. Then there is the light-hearted Kathryn Forbes Mama’s Bank Account which has some of the madcap element that distinguishes Landvik.
There’s a bit of tidying up loose ends, letting us know what happens to the customers who frequented Patty Jane’s House of Curl. Near the end, Lewis, a neighbor kid who spent a lot of his formative years with the Rolvaag family sends a parody “Christmas Letter” which seemed just perfect because the last chapters felt like the author’s Christmas letter to her readers. It was unnecessary from a literary standpoint, but if you’re writing the story for friends and family, well, then it an absolute necessity. And that’s what this book feels like, a book for friends and family of the Rolvaag’s and if you read the books, you can’t help but feel like part of the family.
Once in a Blue Moon Lodge will be released on April 11th. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.