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The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

I know it's been a while since my last post.  It took a while to find another book to read.  I went through a few before this one stuck.  Sometimes that happens and it's annoying.  So here we are with The Drowning House, the first novel by Elizabeth Black, and I feel like it could have been more than it was.  This novel is about many things except for what the book jacket says.  According to the jacket, it's a novel about a woman who returns home in the wake of a family tragedy to put together some photography exhibit and then is drawn into some historical mystery about whether or not the daughter of the rich family next door died in the big hurricane in 1909 (or 1906, but I could be mixing that up with the earthquake in the current book I'm reading... I know it happened at the turn of the twentieth century, okay?) and what role the woman's family played in the death.  Except this mystery plays a minor role in the story and (SPOILERS) the woman's family didn't really play any role that tragedy.  I wish jacket blurbs were more accurate sometimes but they're not, and it always annoys me when they're so far off base from what the story is really about.  I always wait until I'm nearly half way through a book to decide what it's really about because it's usually never about what the blurb says.

Clare's called home to put together a historical photography exhibit in her hometown of Galveston, TX, a.k.a. 'The Island.'  She still struggles with her grief over the death of her daughter the previous year, and her marriage is hanging on by a thread.  Okay, really, her marriage is in its death throes and probably would have bit the dust a lot sooner if not for her daughter.  When she returns home, Clare becomes intrigued by the mystery that surrounds the fate of the daughter of Galveston's most wealthy and influential family who is rumored to have drowned in the family's mansion when it flooded with hurricane waters nearly 100 years ago.  This mystery instead becomes about the major dysfunction present in this family that mirrors the dysfunction in Clare's own family in her growing up years.

Clare is also determined to find answers about why she and Patrick Carraday, great-nephew of the drowned woman, were sent away and kept apart  following a tragic fire that claimed the life of a girl so many years ago.  She finds it's like pulling teeth to get straight answers out of the people who know why they were sent away, but everyone's determined to keep from her a secret that everyone else on the island knows anyway because they've already guessed it.  As Clare starts to put the pieces of this puzzle together, she recalls memories from her own childhood during which she was oddly disconnected from her parents and sister, an outsider in her own family, always observing but never taking part.  What emerges is a portrait of a solitary childhood rife with neglect and abuse whose effects kept her a loner, someone with few friends and a distant relationship with her family.

I have mixed feelings about this book, and I'm not sure what I think about it.  It is indeed a slow burn that winds its way to a shocking conclusion that ends in a tragedy that will have far reaching consequences that alter both families in permanent ways.  It's not a resolution in the end so much as an account of the consequences of the secrets we keep and when these secrets are revealed their effects lead to the downfall of a once great family.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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