Publication date: January 15th 2013
Clare is a tortured soul. Through one of life’s accidents and no one’s fault her precious daughter is dead and it appears likely her marriage is failing as her husband is recovering from the loss and she is not.
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.
At the behest of a family friend she returns to her hometown of Galveston and all of its history and ghosts. As a photographer she has been asked to organize a photo exhibition sponsored by Will Carraday, the town’s richest, most powerful man. Instead, she becomes obsessed with the story of one of the Carraday home’s previous residents, the mysterious Stella, who lived there with her father at the turn of the century. Legend has it that in the hurricane of 1900 she was trapped in the house and later found with her long hair entangled in the dining room chandelier. When Will invites her to move into Stella’s old room during her stay, Clare eagerly accepts and immerses herself evermore deeply in the past. Ultimately, her digging reveals that perhaps Stella did not die but led a life far worse than imagined.
There are so many stories in The Drowning House but author Elizabeth Black seems unable to capitalize on any of them. Within Clare’s own family there is her elusive and elegant mother who appears perfect but in hindsight seems willfully unaware of what’s happening in her own house; either that or she was too busy pursuing her own happiness elsewhere. Clare’s father is a viciously cold man who seems abusive but neither that nor Clare’s relationship with him is ever fully explored. Then there is Clare’s past relationship with Patrick Carraday, Will’s charming feckless son, which after a teen prank gone horribly wrong, results in their removal from Galveston and each other’s lives. Now back in Galveston she is consumed with seeing him again.
Why did we do those things? Why did we lie? Was it our response to an adult world that seemed to be full of secrets? Creating secrets of our own?
Black has a great deal of descriptive talent but it doesn’t work in the service of this novel. Galveston is well and thoroughly described as are each of the characters but there is no intensity or focus to the novel. The characters in The Drowning House are introduced and described but remain vague and elusive throughout the novel. There are plenty of mysteries and secrets in the novel but instead of resolution, the characters and situations are piled on like flotsam, drowning the reader.