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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

The dark, seemingly bottomless water is the standout, creepy element here: a source of relentless, hungry power that straddles the worlds of the living and the dead.

When Jax, a social worker, receives a series of frantic missed calls from her sister Lexie, she assumes that Lexie is having another manic episode. She has a lot on her own plate, and she'll have plenty of time to deal with her estranged sister's mess later.

But disaster strikes, and Jax finds herself trying to unravel the twisted, complicated history of her family and its land--a history Lexie had been researching and had become obsessed by.

McMahon's modern-day ghost story leads the reader into the family's pivotal 1929 decisions, when Jax and Lexie's ancestor Ethel Monroe, desperate to have a baby, made a dark bargain that would have terrible repercussions echoing for generations to come.

There's a dark, spring-fed pool at the heart of this book, and its seemingly bottomless depth and impermeable black water (which characters regularly swam in--I died inside!) were horrifying to contemplate. Spooky tales are passed down through doubting generations, and characters persistently suffer losses and tragedies related to this pool. Yet the water provides enough twisted miracles and temporary healing to keep characters greedily coming back. It's both a salvation and a destructive force.

I took issue with Gram's unapologetic and outrageous favoritism toward Lexie, which could have possibly been attributed to Gram's understanding of her mental health (and inability to hold a job or provide for herself), but was never said to be. Lexie's sabotage of Jax's friendships at a young, vulnerable age seemed too easy for Jax to move past--although I suppose the later wishes and granted wishes that occur were a revenge of sorts.

Lexie is the captivating character here, although she exists largely off page and in the main protagonist's mixed-feelings memories. Lexie was the excellent swimmer and student and musician and had lots of friends and was their parents’ favorite, Grandma’s favorite, and family friend Ryan’s favorite (all despite her mental illness/schizophrenia and its challenges). Most of what Jax does is in reaction to Lexie, while Jax herself feels somewhat nondescript.

The lead-up to the ending feels odd, as characters are ignoring alarming occurrences. I'm not sure I believe that the characters would have behaved the way they’re said to at end of book in order for the denouement to work cleanly. (Would those characters be at the house?)

The pool is the standout element here: a source of relentless, hungry power that seems to straddle the worlds of the living and the dead, persistently pursuing victims within the wholly haunting atmosphere McMahon has created. It's wonderfully creepy.

I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of Gallery Books and NetGalley.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

The Drowning Kind is the newest story by McMahon, the author of The Winter People (and many others).

There are many instances within the book in which a character begins to share key information and is interrupted or stops abruptly, and I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated by this method of prolonging a mystery.

I mentioned this book in the Greedy Reading List Three Books I'm Reading Now, 3/29/21 Edition.


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