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Book Review: THE DROWNING GIRL — A MEMOIR by Caitlín R. Kiernan

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Reviewer’s Note:  I don’t write a review unless I’ve read the book at least twice. I may give some stars to a once-read book, but an in-depth review means I’ve read it at least twice.

I use the system of 1 to 5 stars. Here’s how that plays out in my scale:

Five Stars: this is a work that will grace my bibliophile shelves, for which I will likely read other books by the author, and for which I’ll read again, and will likely become part of my “comfort reads.” These are books that have wrecked, changed, inspired, or otherwise rewarded me doubly for spending time with them.

Four Stars:  means I’ll likely read it again, as well as recommend it to others.

Three Stars: is a book I’d recommend people read.

Two Stars: means that I found pleasure in reading it to the end, but I likely wouldn’t recommend it to someone else – and I likely list what that reason is.

One Star: are typically books I can’t finish. But, they get one star because every reader is an individual. What I can’t finish, you may love. Also, the author put the story out there and that is brave and incredible and I give them props for that. Typically I will denote why I believe I can’t finish the story.

11515328The Drowning Girl — A Memoir

By Caitlín R. Kiernan

5/5 stars.

THE DROWNING GIRL is a book that will continue to preoccupy me, even after it’s been shelved, taken back down to reference, and then shelved again.

This book is not for those that want an easy read. It’s not that. I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but this book is not for reading wimps. This is not a book you take to the beach to breeze through during your vacation, although, taking it to the beach would be very appropriate. To know what I mean by that, you’ll need to read it.

The author warns all readers in the beginning that it is not the book you may expect. Thank the gods for that. It is a book that makes you think, even put it down and look things up. Criticisms have been leveled that it’s a book for other writers and literary and art majors. I could agree with that, and feel gratitude that such a work exists. I also think it’s more than that, because it breaks barriers in style, genre, and format. Kiernan takes the canvas of your reading brain and pushes it, then rips through it, then whispers secrets to you, and, then shows you something new. Having read just about everything Kiernan has written, I would level that this may be her opus; however, I am not confident that she doesn’t have even more hypnotic work ahead of her.

The story is told from the viewpoint of India Morgan Phelps, otherwise known as Imp, although it’s clear that there is a division between India Morgan and Imp. Phelps is the daughter and granddaughter of women with severe psychiatric disorders, and the taint they have on Imp’s life is felt at ever turn. Yet Phelps and Imp seem to be separate entities, one a narrator and one a character, both of whom are unreliable. Character development in this story is not your standard arc – I refer back to my above statement that this novel breaks all kinds of rules and barriers – however, there is great growth. Some of it is vast, some minute, most of it internal, which allows Kiernan to keep one foot in her dark fiction roots and one in literary fiction. Locating where the character growth happens is half the fun for the reader – again, if you’re the kind of reader that is not afraid to delve into a werewolf story, a ghost story, a siren story, an insanity story, a love story, and definitely a story of healing and know that it will have you thinking about its pages when you are away from it. My opinion is that THE DROWNING GIRL explores the monster inside all of us, and how we learn to make love with it, say good bye to it, kill it, and come to terms with it.

The language is seductive and features so many quotable vignettes, that I could spend a week filling Goodreads with quotes from the book and still not be able to do it justice. However, this is my favorite:

“I don’t see much resolution in the world; we are born and we live and we die, and at the end of it there’s only an ugly mess of unfinished business.” (~Imp from THE DROWNING GIRL by Caitlín R. Kiernan.)

Those coming to this book solely because of Kiernan’s reputation for Lovecraftian and/or Dark Gothic Fantasy work might be annoyed with her slicing through genre and leaning in the literary realm. I, for one, however, was repeatedly stunned by the brilliance on the pages and felt like a needy (perhaps, nerdy) lover lingering over them, oftentimes re-reading my favorite passages and curling up with them like a Sunday morning paper.

The publisher ROC likely took a chance with this book given all its unusualness, and it paid off for them. The book garnered Kiernan a Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in a Novel. Additionally the novel was awarded James Tiptree, Jr. prize for 2012, and was a nominee for The Shirley Jackson Award for Novels for 2012, as well. These awards may not mean much to most readers, but it tells me I’m not alone in my adoration of this book.

Oh, and if you’re not convinced, maybe the book trailer, which is one of the best I’ve seen might convince you to read it.


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