BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The House of Deep Water by Jeni McFarland [in Shelf Awareness]

For Jeni McFarland, who survived childhood sexual assault, talking about her trauma “was like a dam burst,” she reveals in an interview with her publisher. “It was so cathartic writing about it that I couldn’t stop.” That horrific survival, further aggravated by being one of few residents of color in her Midwest farming town, inspires her debut novel, The House of Deep Water, in which McFarland populates River Bend, Mich., with a standout cast, including three reluctant returnees.

Linda arrives after six years in Houston, abandoning her mismatched husband. Within days, she’s taken up with Ernest, years her senior. Paula appears next, newly engaged in Utah and hoping finally to get her divorce from Jared after she went AWOL 14 years ago, leaving him with her two daughters by another man – including her oldest, Linda – and a third whom she and Jared had together. Beth returns last, Ernest’s only daughter by his Black ex-wife. Beth is divorced, unemployed after losing her fancy sous-chef job, and has uprooted her two adolescent children from their comfortable Charlotte, N.C., home to cohabitate with her father and a now-pregnant Linda (whom Beth used to babysit).

McFarland entrusts Beth with the bulk of the narrative, speaking as Elizabeth when she’s disclosing her heinous experiences of molestation by her father’s friend and neighbor, and resurfacing as Eliza, a kinder, gentler personality Beth has kept buried in order to survive. Confronting the fragility of all relationships – parents, children, siblings, lovers, friends – McFarland creates a raw, intimate portrait of small-town U.S.A. Discomfort and denial are no longer viable excuses to turn away.

Discover: A debut novelist draws on her childhood traumas of racial isolation and abuse to create a Midwestern town populated by a flawed cast, including three returnees desperate to belong.

Review: “Fiction,” Shelf Awareness, May 19, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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