In Caddis Wood, Graywolf Press

A tender, nuanced portrait of a timeworn marriage

Told from the alternating perspectives of a husband and wife, In Caddis Wood explores the competing rhythms of romantic love, family life, and professional ambition, refracted through the changing seasons of a long marriage. Beneath the surface, affecting their collective future, beats the resilient and endangered heart of nature. Hallie’s career as a poet has always come second to her family, while Carl’s life has been defined by his demanding and internationally acclaimed work as an architect. The onset of a debilitating illness and the discovery of Hallie’s cache of letters from another man set Carl reeling and cause him to question not only his previously unshakable belief in himself but also his faith in Hallie’s devotion. As the memories multiply and the family gathers at their longtime summerhouse in the woods of Wisconsin, Hallie and Carl’s grown-up daughters offer unexpected avenues toward forgiveness and healing.

With warmth and generosity, Mary François Rockcastle captures the way that the aging mind imbues the present with all the many layers of the past as she illuminates the increasingly unbreakable bonds borne of a shared life.

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Chapter Five

hen he wakes, the room is dark and he is hot, but as usual when he becomes overheated now, there is no sweat.  He reaches for the glass of water on the nightstand and drinks.  Turning toward Hallie, he is startled to find the bed empty.  “Hal?” he calls out.  When she doesn’t answer, he calls again, louder this time.  He gets up, puts on his robe, and descends the stairs.  His eyes are accustomed to the dark now, and the moon glows faintly on the surfaces of things.  Standing in the middle of the living room, he calls to her again.  Alarmed, he walks to the window, toward the blink of light winking through the pines.  It is their habit, when one stays up longer or is awakened in the night and can’t go back to sleep, to descend to the living room or kitchen, turn up the fire, and read.  Sometimes Hallie writes.  Her laptop, he remembers, is in the other cabin.  He turns to go back to bed, but something stops him and he shivers.  Putting on his coat and boots, he leaves the house, closing the door softly behind him.

If it weren’t for the curiosity mixed with alarm pulsing through him, he would drink in the beauty of the moonlight on the snow, the black sky studded with stars.  Light beams from the bedroom.  He treads lightly to the window and peers in carefully, not wanting to be seen.

She is sitting on the floor directly across from the window, her back against the wall, the bottom drawer of the bureau open.  She has a letter on her lap but she isn’t reading.  She is lost in thought, her gaze fixed on some object in the room or on the rug.  The glass is grainy with winter grime so he can’t see her face plainly.  Her body is slumped to one side.  The letter moves involuntarily in her hand and she runs her right palm over it.  His heart flutters, skips a beat.

He paces back and forth alongside the house.  He should go inside and confront her.  I woke up, you weren’t there, I saw the light in the other cabin, I got worried.  He looks in the window again.  She is up on her knees, bending over the bottom drawer.  He hikes quickly across the snow and back into the house.  Carefully he puts his boots away, wipes up the moisture from the snow he tracked in, is back in bed when she comes in.  As she slides back into bed, he pretends to be asleep.
When he does sleep, finally, he dreams that he is inside a concrete block house in the middle of the woods.  There are no doors and the windows are locked and made of such heavy glass he can’t punch his way out.  There is no furniture in the room, nothing to use to shatter the glass.

As he looks outside, Hallie glides out from the trees and begins walking in a circle around the house.  She is far enough away that he can’t make out the features of her face but he knows by her hair and body that she is young.  She is wearing a summer dress, like the one his mother was wearing in the earlier dream.  He bangs at the window, calls out her name, but she doesn’t hear him, doesn’t look in his direction.  When she’s made one circuit of the house, she turns back toward the woods.  A man is standing there.   Carl can’t determine the face or age of the man but as Hallie reaches him, they turn and walk together into the trees.

Press & Reviews

• Minnesota Book Award (Novel & Short Story) finalist

•  Fall “Indie Sleeper” selection (Publishers Weekly)

•  Midwest Connections pick (Midwest Booksellers Association)



It is Mary François Rockcastle’s remarkable accomplishment to find in those everyday occurrences a story of great moment — the sort of drama that defines and marks most of our lives, however “average.”

Make no mistake: Rockcastle’s characters are distinguished in their own way. Carl is a celebrated architect; his wife, Hallie, is a respected poet. But as their story is told, alternating between their perspectives, what matters is the very familiar trouble they encounter: their betrayal or abandonment by their parents; their unhappiness in their marriage, with Hallie looking elsewhere for comfort; their fraught relationship with their twin daughters, Cordelia and Beatrice (a very literary couple they are).

The story, such as it is, centers on Carl’s late-in-life discovery of Hallie’s earlier emotional infidelity, just as the two of them are confronting his mortality, as his inevitably fatal neurodegenerative disease begins to manifest itself and is finally diagnosed.

Back and forth the thoughts and reminiscences of these two characters go, with their stories and memories framed by their time, past and present, in their cabin in Caddis Wood, a summer place in Wisconsin. Through each, we learn of the accident that shaped one daughter’s life, and of the fire that claimed the other girl’s husband.

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While reading In Caddis Wood (Graywolf), Mary François Rockcastle’s second novel, I was immediately struck by its resemblance to Wallace Stegner’s masterful Crossing to Safety.  Both books examine long-term relationships and the problems of growing older.  Both pay homage to the importance of place, in this case, a summer home in the woods of Wisconsin, in securing the characters, and both display a solemn, awed regard for the natural world.  Like Stegner, Rockcastle deftly describes this circumscribed world. Her regard for the beauties and ambiguities of nature breathe life into Caddis Wood.

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In Caddis Wood by Mary F. Rockcastle combines a strong sense of place with family drama. Told in alternating points of view, husband and wife Carl and Hallie combat Carl’s debilitating illness until Carl discovers letters written to Hallie by another man. This shakes his faith in their relationship and Hallie’s devotion. Memories abound in this lyrical novel that explores the inner workings of marriage and the bond between two people over time that tightens and expands as they grow and change together and within their family. It’s this family that offers the couple a chance to forgive and heal one another.

Rockcastle presents a deep love of the environment and a realistic view of both environmental degradation and the degradation of a marriage in her novel. While her characters have their flaws, hope lies in their chance for redemption, if willing to get dirty, take close note of changes in the environment around them, whether in the natural world or the romantic one, and are ready to embrace the challenges and rewards of a long-term bond. Rockcastle works with a delicate brush and paints a picture of a marriage and the fortitude these characters have to endure and flourish.



In Caddis Wood is a product of tireless research—a thoughtful study in botany, architecture, medicine and poetry. In Caddis Wood ultimately pays tribute to the midwestern landscapes of urban Minneapolis and the woods of Wisconsin––a place that becomes a fully-formed character in its own complexity and reveals a fragile symbiosis between humans and nature in the novel’s thematic undercurrent.

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It is to author Rockcastle’s credit that we feel compassion for everyone inhabiting this story, and that we blame no one for their foibles or their all too human failures, most of which are sins of omission committed by all of us as we strive to meet our own needs along with those of the people we love the most. This family is so real, so understandable, so in need of comfort each in their own way, that we want to embrace them in their grief, applaud their reconciliations, and learn from their loving fortitude. In that sense, this sometimes sad but ultimately uplifting tale reminds us that even when love is laced with anger and disappointment it can regenerate in the comfort and safety of a family grounded in what really matters: unconditional affection and acceptance, and the knowledge that each member has been there for the other, no matter what they are called upon to face or to share. Achieving all of this is clearly an accomplishment for any family—and a notable achievement for any writer.



As she did in her debut, Rainy Lake, Rockcastle once again melds family drama with a palpable sense of place. . . . Suffused, appropriately, with imagery of the natural and man-made worlds, Rockcastle’s skillful pacing weaves together the family’s tumultuous history with its uncertain present. A mature love story offering a clear-eyed glimpse of the challenges and rewards of a long marriage.

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[A] poetic and illuminating novel. . . . Rockcastle has written an examination of a marriage, a paean to nature and a warning about ongoing environmental degradation and manages to make them all engaging.

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There are two sides to every marriage, and both the Fens, Hallie and Carl, get to tell their impressions of a nearly 40-year union during what will turn out to be the last year of Carl’s life. Eventually diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder, Carl begins his year in the grips of an unknown malaise that subjects him to frequent blackouts, hallucinations, and other bodily infirmities and indignities. Hallie exhaustively researches his symptoms, only to have her quest for answers put her back in contact with a man she became fond of during the period when she and Carl had separated nearly 10 years earlier. While Carl confronts the evidence of how easily he might have lost her at that time, Hallie must work to reassure Carl and herself, before it’s too late, that he was the only man she ever truly loved. Elegiac and poignant, Rockcastle’s indelible portrait of a fragile yet enduring relationship teems with shimmering images, reflecting the solace and wisdom to be found in nature.



The natural environment exerts a powerful presence in Rockcastle’s second novel. . . . Gracefully moving between past and present, Rockcastle portrays the tangled emotions of a troubled marriage, of a family struggling to rise above tragedy. A strong and insightful novel this reader was reluctant to see end.



In Mary Francois Rockcastle’s novel, In Caddis Wood, grief has no expiration, and memories have no boundaries.  Carl, a successful architect in his early sixties, is struck by a sudden and mysterious illness and although his wife Hallie rushes to his aid, she is soon rebuffed when he suspects her of having an affair.  Memories of their parents’ betrayals and weaknesses rise like ghosts and intermingle with the present against the backdrop of Caddis Wood, the family’s summer house, a setting that is at once stunning and harsh.  Rockcastle wonderfully integrates the beauty and brutality of this natural world into her prose while darting back and forth in time.  Gazing at the aftermath of a fire that killed their son-in-law, the couple notices life creeping back in nature even as it is drained from Carl: “The blackened landscape and charred stumps have receded beneath a riot of ferns, shrubs, and saplings . . . Together they gaze across the rolling grass, moved by the multitude of tones, the rim of smoldering trees.”



The language is unmistakably poetic and unhurried; not a criticism but a virtue. We aren’t given chunks of character information to digest as each person is introduced, but neither do we suffer from lack of characterization We get to know more about Hallie, Carl, their daughters Cory and Bea and Bea’s husband Jack gradually as we become better acquainted, just as we would in real life.

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In Caddis Wood is the story of a husband and wife, Carl and Hallie, whose lives are thrown askew by illness and questions of infidelity. The novel is split between their perspectives, and Rockcastle succeeds in writing both characters believably, avoiding the reduction of one (or both) to a caricature. This is her first novel in more than a decade, and fans of her last book, Rainy Lake, will be happy to see that she carries on the quality of work here. Aging, jealousy, sickness, and regret are abundant here, but there is also love. Novels like this make descriptors like ‘domestic drama’ and ‘psychological realism’ anything but pejorative. Appropriate for all adult fiction collections.


Rainy Lake, Graywolf Press 

“By turns serene and angry, tender and bold, Mary Rockcastle’s Rainy Lake catches at the heart.”
—Louise Erdrich

“To leave Rainy Lake is to be left with ‘the lingering smell of lake water,’ the haunting memory of a real girl struggling to come of age against the backdrop of the ’60’s, racism and Vietnam.”
—Sandra Benitez

In this evocative, heart-grabbing novel, author Mary Rockcastle invites the reader to savor the sights, sounds, and smells of summer at her parents’ lopsided lakefront cabin during the 1960s. From the landscape of her memory, Danielle Fillian paints a sensitive and wise family portrait of summers filled with fly-fishing, swimming, water-skiing, new friendships, and a deepening first love. But with the intrusion of the Vietnam War and the rumblings of the civil rights movement growing steadily nearer, this sheltered vacation community is forced to acknowledge the harsh realities of the wider world.

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Rainy Lake . . . sifts through Danny’s layered impressions of a safe, dreamy world on the verge of coming apart together . . . . There is emotional heft in Ms. Rockcastle’s careful portraits of the pensive narrator and her disappointed, hard-drinking parents, and of Billy, who goes ‘down the tracks’ with the local girls but falls in love with 15-year-old Danielle.



Rockcastle has painted a vivid, flesh-and-bone portrayal of a family and their lakeside summers.



In this wonderfully fresh coming-of-age story set against the social upheavals of the 1960s, a family so full of promise at the beginning ends up fragmented and bitter. . . . Rockcastle flawlessly depicts the final argument about war and respect for authority between Danny’s brother and her ranting, drunken father, an argument that leads to tragedy.  While the author’s affectionate look at adolescent experiments . . . lend humor, this is ultimately an authentic, moving portrayal of a family. Highly recommended.



Rainy Lake is . . . one of those rare books that evokes the tastes, smells, longings, heartaches, and confusion of adolescence (real adolescence) so forcefully that after reading it, you’d swear you lived it.



Progressing from summer to summer with each chapter, Danny unravels, with a fly tier’s precision, the organic growth of the tragedies that marred her family’s lives.



Beautifully told with a strong sense of place and time, Rainy Lake will particularly charm readers who spent their summers at a place that is remembered with special affection.

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