53 pages 1 hour read

Kristin Hannah

On Mystic Lake

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1999

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Summary and Study Guide


On Mystic Lake is a work of contemporary fiction written by Kristin Hannah. It was published in 1999. Hannah is the author of well over a dozen novels of both contemporary and historical fiction, many of which address the struggles of female protagonists.

In On Mystic Lake, when Annie’s husband of 20 years leaves her on the same day that her daughter departs for a three-month trip to Europe, she must learn to move on and live her life on her own terms. Through the experiences of Annie and of other characters who are grieving a loss in the town of Mystic, Hannah explores themes of family ties, communication, and the different ways people manage to disappear from their own lives.

This guide refers to the 1999 Kindle edition of the novel.

Content Warning: This novel features discussions of death by suicide and alcohol abuse, as well as potentially insensitive portrayals of depression.

Plot Summary

The novel is told from the third-person limited perspective and most frequently follows Annie and her old high school friend, Nick. The novel opens in California as Annie and her husband, Blake, drop their only daughter, Natalie, off at the airport. Natalie is about to spend three months in Europe. When the couple returns to their gated community, Blake tells Annie that he has been having an affair with a colleague named Suzannah and that he wants a divorce. Annie convinces him to give them at least three months before he formally divorces her, and he agrees.

Annie decides to go back to her hometown of Mystic to regain some perspective on her life, so she returns to live with her father, Hank. Hank did his best to take care of Annie when she was younger, but after Annie’s mother died, he focused on helping Annie find a wealthy husband to marry instead of helping her to pursue her own dreams. When Annie arrives at Hank’s house, he reassures her that Blake will come to his senses and come back to her. Annie realizes that she looks out of place in her California clothes, and she knows that Blake likes long hair, so she buys some more casual clothes and gets her hair cut very short.

Annie had two best friends in her teenage years: Kathy and Nick. Both Kathy and Annie had feelings for Nick, but Annie wanted to leave Mystic and go to Stanford, and Nick knew that Kathy needed him. While Annie and Nick shared a kiss in their youth, Annie slowly lost touch with Nick and Kathy when they got engaged and then married. When she returns to Mystic she finds out that Kathy died about eight months earlier.

Annie goes to Nick’s house, and the two talk. She learns that Kathy died of suicide that is attributed to her “manic depression.” They have one six-year-old daughter named Izzy who is suffering greatly after the death of her mother. Izzy believes that her body parts are disappearing, and she has not been able to speak in a while. She has been kicked out of school. Annie and Nick have sex, and then Annie asks him if she can help him take care of Izzy because she needs something to do with her time. Annie starts spending a lot of time with Izzy, and she does not pressure the girl to talk. Annie keeps up constant conversation, however, and slowly Izzy starts to make sounds and then one day she begins to speak again. Izzy believes that she sees her mother’s spirit, and her mother tells her that Izzy cannot come with her. As Izzy’s emotional well-being heals slowly, she begins to realize that her body parts have not disappeared.

Nick has developed an alcohol addiction in the wake of Kathy’s death. He drinks to avoid his feelings of failure over what happened to both Izzy and Kathy. Eventually, Annie tells him that he needs to overcome his addiction for the sake of his daughter. Through the help of an old friend and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), he succeeds, and returns to Izzy and becomes a good father. Annie and Nick develop a romantic and sexual relationship even though they both know that Annie has to leave in a couple of months when Natalie returns to the States. Annie starts to feel ill, however, and discovers that she is pregnant with Blake’s child. She must return to California because she has a high-risk pregnancy and needs access to the doctors there. She also believes that Blake deserves to know his child.

She and Blake tentatively reconcile because he realizes that she took better care of him than Suzannah does. Annie has numerous conversations with Natalie, however, and realizes how poor of a father Blake has been to her. When their daughter, Katie, is born prematurely, Blake does not spend much time at the hospital, and Annie has to deal with the trauma on her own. She knows that Blake will never be a good father to Katie, and Blake knows that Annie will no longer blindly do everything he wants her to. The two separate, and Annie plans to take Katie and return to Nick and Izzy; she would like to open a bookstore in Mystic because although she is financially independent, she wants to work in order to improve her own sense of self.

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