"The Drowning Kind" Book Review
Written by Chris Deal
Published by Simon and Schuster
Written by Jennifer McMahon
2020, 336 pages, Fiction
Released on April 6th, 2021
In Jennifer McMahon’s The Drowning Kind, Jax, a young social worker, finds herself the recipient of several missed calls and long messages from her sister. Lexie sounds like she is off her medication and in the throws of a manic episode. Lexie calls her again and again, leaving voicemails begging Jax to come and join her at Sparrow Crest, the family home Lexie inherited when their grandmother passed away. Jax ignores those calls until she gets one she cannot ignore. Lexie is dead, found floating in Sparrow Crest’s pool, a pool built out of the spring local folklore says can heal.
That pool is at the heart of The Drowning Kind’s other story, that of Ethel, which takes place in the 1920s. She’s a newly wed woman, maybe a little older than other newlyweds. Could have easily become a spinster if not for the love of her life, Doctor Will Monroe. Theirs is a grand love, but neither is getting any younger, and it seems something is missing in their lives, something Ethel will do anything for.
There is a lot to like about this book. The character work is damn near impeccable, with Jax being a fully fleshed-out character. Jax is damn flawed, nowhere near a perfect person. She’s given to jealousy, which is a major thread through this story. Her jealousy towards Lexie is the resentment that only a younger sibling could have towards their elders. Lexie herself is given life through the eyes of Jax and those that knew her, which is very well done. Ethel keeps her pain inside, the anxieties we all face and then some. Even the side characters – Aunt Diane; Jax and Lexie’s father Ted (not Dad, only Ted); and the girl’s friend Ryan – all of them just make sense as people.
The writing works here. The words propel you forward, not holding your hand or shoving the answers down your throat. Nothing too fancy, but it works. McMahon gives you a good mystery, what happened to Lexie in that pool, and what is the secret of that pool that spans generations. We follow the two main characters as they fall victim to that mystery, as they lose themselves to it.
Which brings me to the one flaw I can find, the one thing that kept eating me after I finished this book. See, this is the third book of McMahon’s I’ve read, the other two being The Winter People and The Invited, and while all three are fine books, good little yarns about the spooky things in Vermont, all are very similar. There’s a modern mystery, a modern narrator, and cut through all of them there is a story from olden times informing the modern-day mystery, often told through a diary.
And that’s fine. The author has a format, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s damn near its own genre, I’m sure. I can think of a handful of other books I’ve read this year with a similar trick, but so long as that individual book, regardless of similarities to others in their format, work, does the thing we read scary books for, that’s fine. Right?
Disregarding that little thing there stuck in my craw, I have to admit this is a good read, with plenty of atmosphere and charm. Real scary, no, but there were enough moments there.
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