The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group,1/15/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group,1/15/2013
Hardcover, 288 pages
A gripping suspense story about a woman who returns to Galveston, Texas after a personal tragedy and is irresistibly drawn into the insular world she’s struggled to leave.
Photographer Clare Porterfield's once-happy marriage is coming apart, unraveling under the strain of a family tragedy. When she receives an invitation to direct an exhibition in her hometown of Galveston, Texas, she jumps at the chance to escape her grief and reconnect with the island she hasn't seen for ten years. There Clare will have the time and space to search for answers about her troubled past and her family's complicated relationship with the wealthy and influential Carraday family.
Soon she finds herself drawn into a century-old mystery involving Stella Carraday. Local legend has it that Stella drowned in her family's house during the Great Hurricane of 1900, hanged by her long hair from the drawing room chandelier. Could Stella have been saved? What is the true nature of Clare's family's involvement? The questions grow like the wildflower vines that climb up the walls and fences of the island. And the closer Clare gets to the answers, the darker and more disturbing the truth becomes.
Steeped in the rich local history of Galveston, The Drowning House portrays two families, inextricably linked by tragedy and time.
In Elizabeth Black's debut novel, The Drowning House, photographer Clare Porterfield's life is in turmoil. Her six-year-old daughter has died. She is immersed in inescapable grief and her marriage is drowning under the weight of her sorrows. She accepts an invitation to return to her hometown of Galveston, Texas, in order to select the material for a photography exhibition funded by the wealthy Will Carraday.
Clare has been gone from the island for many years and, along with others, is questioning her real reasons for returning. In fact, Clare has had a long time relationship with the Carraday family. She had left the island after a tragedy involving her and her friend, Patrick Carraday. He was sent away and they were kept apart.
Galveston has a past seeped in tragedy and that feeling imbibes the novel. Part of the novel explores the mystery surrounding Stella Carraday’s drowning during the hurricane that devastated Galveston on September 8-9, 1900.
Clare may be in Galveston to look at photographs, but what she really seeks are answers to decades old questions, some of which she didn't even know she needed to ask. She has some questions about her past and her family that need to be answered. As she tries to come to terms with her new life, memories start to come to light in a new way.
While the writing in The Drowning House is superb, I'm going to admit that I knew, without a lot of effort, the big secret(s) the novel was going to reveal very early on. If Black had allowed that the reader would have that foreknowledge, leaving us to feel oh-so-slightly-smug at our deductive prowess, and then did a little flip with the plot, I would be applauding her for the extremely well-written novel with the clever plot twist.
Black has written a sensitive, atmospheric, southern gothic mystery. While readers might know as quickly as I did the secrets that are going to be revealed, Black has done an amazing job developing her characters, as well as life in Galveston in this finely crafted novel.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for review purposes.
Instead I said, “I’ll drive.” Saying it made it seem like something I could do.
“You’re going to drive to Texas from D.C.? By yourself?” Now I had his full attention. “You haven’t driven anywhere in months.”
I had tried. I’d gone out to the garage, keys in hand. I’d seen through the window Bailey’s blue parka lying on the backseat, one arm flung out in a gesture so vividly like her that for a moment I could almost believe she was alive. Then the truth washed over me. Bright spots swam up from the concrete floor and my legs began to shake. I went back into the house. (Location 140-145)
“If it will make you happy.”
I didn’t tell him that happiness had always seemed to me to descend suddenly, when you least expected it, like a sun shower. That often it wasn’t until much later you could look back and say, then, on that ordinary morning, with a car full of six-year-olds squirming and kicking, as the station wagon flashed through the dappled light of the tree-lined streets, then I was truly happy. (Location 148-152)
If I had been asked, I would have said that I’d lost my daughter a year ago—two months and three days after her sixth birthday. I lost Bailey. That was the way I thought of it, and the thought was both hopeful and damning. Lost suggested that she might someday be found, as if she had wandered into the next aisle at the grocery store or been forgotten by the car pool, that she might reappear, absently twirling a damp strand of hair around one finger. Still, anyone listening carefully would understand that it was an admission of guilt. I lost her. I also lost the person I was then, the person I was becoming. Lost her completely. (Location 165-170)
Jules, my agent, would have said more positive things. That I was a young photographer whose star had risen suddenly. That I had been invited to Galveston to choose material for an exhibition. To write the introduction to the exhibition catalogue. And it was true. In my camera bag I had the letter confirming everything. (Location 174-176
Natives call Galveston “the Island,” as if there were no other. Those who are BOI, born on the Island, take pride in the fact. My name is Clare Porterfield, but the house I grew up in is known as the Hayes-Giraud house, for the families who lived in it a hundred years ago. (Location 219-221)
“That’s right. They can’t send me away.”
Eleanor sighed. “Clare, we’ve talked about this. Your leaving the Island was something we agreed on together, both families. It was a serious situation. The girl died.”
“That wasn’t our fault!” (Location 323-326)
“Michael is fine.” To my surprise, it was true. I knew Michael had suffered. I’d seen him, shoulders hunched, sobbing in the shower. But he had completed his task, delivered his burden to wherever it is old sorrows go. While I had barely started. I was beginning to think that grieving the loss of my child would be my real life’s work. Michael’s ease—one of the traits I’d loved and married him for—was now the principal thing dividing us. (Location 364-367)
Growing up, I believed I was deficient in a way that I couldn’t identify precisely and that this explained my failure to fit in with my family. It was something inside, not visible, a matter of character or outlook, I thought. And for that reason, hard to come to terms with. But here was a man whose defect was plain to see, and it didn’t bother him at all. I stared as he matter-of-factly measured out the bait shrimp, made change, his sleeve rolled comfortably above the elbow. I hoped that if I studied him long enough, I might learn his secret. (Location 1026-1030)
I wondered if what they really meant was that now people remembered things differently. That was the way in Galveston. Real events were absorbed into the Island’s narrative and in time became something else. So that life there could go on. (Location 1307-1309)