Review of Deadly Waters by Dot Hutchison
Deadly Waters was not the book I thought it was going to be. It's a revenge fantasy, but the issues at the heart of the story are real and weighty and important.
Rebecca Sorley is a responsible, even-keel college student in Florida, and she's trying to get good grades, keep her scholarship, spend time with her friends--and keep an eye on her hot-tempered roommate, Ellie.
Ellie's vocally open about her fury at what many of her fellow female students have to put up with from young men who won't hear no and don't treat women with respect. She's known for getting into tussles with men trying to prey upon women. But the men's behavior seems to be getting more aggressive, more entitled, and more dangerous, and Ellie can't fight off every man on behalf of every woman who needs protection.
Then some of their most offensive and reportedly abusive male classmates start turning up dead--killed by alligators, but under suspicious circumstances. It's starting to seem like a vigilante killer may be on the loose, taking justice into his or her own hands. And the response from the college community isn't completely damning--young women begin speaking publicly about their attacks and attackers rather than only whispering in bathrooms to trusted friends. The women are becoming less afraid--but the young men who have behaved abominably and often criminally are rightfully growing terrified.
It's starting to look to Rebecca and their other roommates as though Ellie's fight against injustice and predation might have taken a turn toward homicide. Could she--would she do such a thing?
The college friends have strong bonds of loyalty; they sometimes behave impulsively; and they are appropriately young and wild at times. But the group has two young women connected closely to them who have been permanently debilitated related to attacks by men, and the women's primary concern is keeping themselves and each other safe. They sometimes have to go to great lengths to do so because everyday dangers loom around every corner in the form of men who feel entitled to use women however they want.
This book was not what I thought it was going to be. I imagined that the alligator angle might make for a campy revenge fantasy. And it is revenge fantasy. But the issues Hutchison explores are very real and weighty, and there is far more meat to this story than I expected. The author builds a framework in Deadly Waters of brutalized women's fear and anger, establishes the problematic societal "conversation" between some men and women (males' groping, lewd comments, and entitlement; females' rejection presented as rude, unacceptable, or simply ignored), and she reinforces how infrequently men are prosecuted for their abusive actions. Hutchison is setting the stage for an enraged fire of backlash--and she delivers on it.
The deaths are brutal, yet they do feel like some version of justice to those who have been victimized. And the homicides seems to be shifting the tide of power and changing men's behavior in general. Even the most reasonable and calm friend in the group is pushed to ask at one point, regarding suspicions that Ellie may be behind the deaths of the men, "How do I condemn Ellie for taking a terrible action--maybe taking a terrible action--when I'm so damn grateful for the results?" Deadly Waters was really interesting in ways I didn't anticipate, and I also like Hutchison's writing style very much.
(A horrifying side note: did you know alligators can climb trees?!? I almost fainted when I confirmed that this was true. Make it stop. No.)
I received a prepublication copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer.
What did you think?
Hutchison wrote The Collector series, which I haven't read, but it looks well received, and I intend to. (The Butterfly Garden is the first book.)
I also saw in the author's bio that she once worked at the Renaissance Faire as a human combat chess piece, and I believe this is information that should be shared, because it is clearly amazing.
I first mentioned Deadly Waters in the Greedy Reading List Three Books I'm Reading Now, 9/22/20 Edition.