Mini Review: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

When sisters Jax and Lexie swam in the pitch-black pool of water behind their grandma’s house — Dracula’s Castle their father calls it — they played water games, which usually concluded with Lexie trying to scare her sister. There’s no bottom to the pool. Their aunt who drowned as a child in the pool will grab them and pull them under. That sort of thing. But after grandma dies and leaves the house to Lexie, Jax gets as far away from Lexie as possible. Signs of mental illness and Lexie’s tendency to stop taking medication and disrupt the lives of her family cause Jax to separate herself by many states and establish boundaries. But one night Lexie calls repeatedly to leave voice messages about “the fucking scientific method” and to say “she’s here!” Jax doesn’t answer. And the next day, Lexie is dead, drowned in the pool they swam in as girls.

Jennifer McMahon does an excellent job of weaving two timelines, which is mostly a writing technique I hate. I read about it most often in novels that have a present timeline and one circa WWII, with the lives of the characters joining via a journal or letters that then teach the present-day character more about him or herself. Not my jam.

Instead, the older timeline in The Drowning Kind is set mostly in 1929 when a young woman named Ethel and her husband, both in their 30s, wish to have a child, but it’s not happening. They head to a luxury hotel that’s just opened, boasting of a healing, restorative spring-fed pool that cures what ails. Ethel hears rumors that people can make wishes into the pool, too. It isn’t until later she discovers that when the spring gives, it takes elsewhere. And if the pool takes, can you return to get more water to fix what was taken? A cycle of dependence and consequences spiral.

The Drowning Kind is full of death, mostly by drowning, but the mysterious pool gets people in other ways, too. Instead of Jax discovering Ethel’s diary, or something like that, it’s only the reader who is privy to Ethel’s story of the pool and a haunted motherhood. I realized early who Ethel’s baby was, but that doesn’t change anything — this isn’t a mystery about how the timelines connect. It’s a story about whether the pool is full of dead people and grants wishes, or if visitors are using correlation to making leaps of reason.

This is the kind of “horror” (no gore, murderer with a mask, creature feature, etc.) I enjoy because I want to believe. I used to so effortlessly terrify myself as a child (Biscuit can attest to this) that I claimed I could hear spiders in the walls. There were wild animals in the woods ready to eat me. On one occasion my brother, who was in his twenties at the time, was so convinced a Predator chased him down a dark gravel road (on foot!) that he was heaving and sweaty and pale when flew through the door.

The Drowning Kind is read by two actors, Joy Osmanski and Imani Jade Powers. While Omanski’s sharp, critical-sounding voice brought the present timeline with Jax to life, Powers’s part is more soft spoken, almost wispy as she narrates Ethel. Though I understand that voices change over time to fit the expectations of people in society, I could have don’t without the almost childish voice Powers used. On the other hand, both actors brought their characters to life and clearly distinguished the timelines, so it’s a minor pet peeve.

McMahon’s novel could be enjoyed in either audio or text formats. The writing was obviously different between the timelines, and the sentences themselves, not just the actors’ delivery, are spooky.

23 comments

  1. This does sound like an interesting premise! I agree, it’s hard to get the dual timeline thing right. My favourite example is Red Joan, which does flash back to roughly WWII time (I think just after), but the eponymous Joan is alive in both timelines – 19 in one and 85 in the other – so they feel much more connected.

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    • Red Joan sounds a bit like the Titanic movie in that the character is alive in both. I can now happily say there are two books in which I appreciated two story lines. It’s a very exclusive club. You may enjoy the way McMahon’s characters believe the water has medicinal purposes and the way people thought about health and healing. The older story line is set in the 1930s, but it seemed old than that, to me. Perhaps because she emphasizes that her husband has a car?

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  2. This definitely sounds very intriguing. Your review of it totally gave me chills. I don’t mind dual timelines, fortunately, as long as they are clearly denoted to avoid confusion as I read (which this one sounds as if it is). Excellent review!

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  3. Interesting to use different voices for the dual timelines. I’ll have to ask Mr Lyz if he’s encountered this in his reading (not sure if he gets that sort of timeline in his books). Too alarming for me, of course, but your reviews are always interesting!

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    • I’ve read 2, maybe 3 audiobooks in which chapters that go back and forth between two characters are narrated by different people. If they got one really good artist who does voices, they could do it with one person.

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      • Hmm… what kind… I don’t watch horror films at all, and can handle reading about scary things much better than watching them. I actually like things with ghosts/paranormal but they can’t be TOO evil/malevolent… poltergeists freak me out… Zombies are a total NO for me. Vampires I can handle (loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer show.) Gothic type lit is in my wheelhouse. I don’t like gore or too much vivid description of blood, etc. Does that help? Is there a name for my type of Scaredy Cat? LOL

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  4. This sounds intriguing. I don’t generally like the dual timeline thing either but it can be effective if done well. I love the water but it’s also very easy to freak yourself out about bodies of water, I think.

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    • The water in this book starts out as being almost like a natural bathing spot, like a hot spring-size, from what I gathered, and then a man expanded it to be like a swimming pool (how did he do that??) so then it’s called a “pool.” It took me a hot second to not picture a cement pool like you might have in a backyard!

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  5. The bit about hearing spiders in the walls is pure nightmare fuel. >_<
    The part about Predator is hilarious though! When I was really young I was convinced we had gremlins living in our basement, and an orca in our swimming pool that, according to kid-logic, would only show up if I went swimming alone. lol

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    • Oddly, there is only one part in the beginning of the novel in which the spider has thoughts. It’s not really speaking to the reverend, not how I read it anyway! So, no nightmare fuel there, lol.

      I used to think there was a Terminator in the woods, that I could hear spiders in the walls (hear!), that Jaws was in the bathtub. It’s so easy to dream up scary things even in the light of day when you are little.

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  6. Oh I’m glad you liked it! I know what you mean about wanting to believe, I’m totally the same way. My imagination can get the best of me, but I sort of enjoy that as well. Reading scary books (as opposed to watching scary movies) is a safe way for me to do this 🙂

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