In her latest novel, Jennifer McMahon uses grief, mental illness, and a mysterious spring-fed pool to create another downright spooky novel that has become her hallmark. In The Drowning Kind, secrets and a New England lack of emotion rule the day, creating a family dynamic in which secrets trump everything. Combined with a house that is more castle than cozy and a mysterious pool that holds its own secrets, the story is everything you expect it to be.
Jax’s relationship with her now-deceased sister is every bit as complex as you would expect when one of the siblings suffers from bipolar disorder. We get to know Lexie only through Jax’s memories. As she reviews her memories using her training as a therapist, they carry all the complicated emotions that come with someone struggling with anger, guilt, and grief. At the same time, it becomes obvious to the reader that Lexie’s behavior before she died has nothing to do with her illness and everything to do with whatever she was researching. Some of the tension built throughout the novel deals with the disconnect between Lexie’s final days and Jax’s belief that she was in the throes of a manic episode.
At the same time, we travel ninety years into the past to follow the story of one Ethel O’Shay Monroe, a young wife yearning for a child and the chance to be a mother. A chance trip to a Vermont resort known for its healing waters brings her one step closer to fulfilling her dreams. As she learns more about the pool, and as her own story starts connecting the dots to Jax’s, we begin to understand even more about Lexie’s last days, and it is a lot more than anyone expects.
The otherworldly element that exists in The Drowning Kind serves as a reminder of why so many people are afraid of water. After all, it isn’t just a fear of drowning that prevents people from swimming in deep water. There is also a fear of the unknown people must overcome. Ms. McMahon expertly capitalizes on both fears in the pool that plays such a large part in Ethel’s, Lexie’s, and Jax’s lives.
To me, The Drowning Kind is quintessential McMahon, well-executed in its intensity and spookiness. In fact, The Drowning Kind is downright scary. I read it while home alone for a week and had more than one uncomfortable moment in bed wondering just what was out there waiting for me. It’s been a long time since any book made me worry about the monster under the bed, which is why I will always recommend Ms. McMahon to anyone looking for something spooky to read.