13 June 2012

Karen White: The Memory of Water (2008)

Karen White's The Memory of Water is an example of the Lowcountry sub-genre of Southern Literature, is set in South Carolina, and is told by four narrators:

Diana, a gifted painter with bipolar disorder who has lost much of her creativity under a fog of prescribed drugs.

Marnie, Diana's sister who teaches children with special needs in Arizona, who returns to South Carolina for an indetermined period.

Quinn, Diana's ex-husband who has invited Marnie over.

Gil, Diana and Quinn's nine-year-old son, who has recently gone dumb.

Diana and Marnie were in a boat accident a number of years before, in which their mother, another mentally ill person, apparently died. Marnie has little memory of the events, although there's obviously a huge communication problem between the sisters, who haven't seen each other for ten years.

Recently there has been another boat accident, and although both Diana and Gil have survived, they are evidently very disturbed by the ordeal and Quinn hopes that Marnie can help Gil recover from the trauma.

The fear of water and the curative power of (and often indirect communication by) art are central motifs in this often perceptive – even beautifully written – but ultimately unsatisfying novel that seems to begin in the right places but ends unbelievably: an absorbing psychological mystery turns into Southern Gothic with a denouement that drowns in its own contrivances.

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