A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (August 1, 2014). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.
In This Is the Water, Yannick Murphy (The Call) explores the effects of the shocking, seemingly random killing of one of its stars on a community swim team and, more significantly, on the swim-team parents.
Annie, the mother of two girls on the team, is torn between conflicted feelings over her brother’s recent suicide and her fears for her daughters, and finds her life further complicated by an attraction to Paul, the father of another swimmer. Paul has entrusted Annie with a secret that he’s kept for over twenty-five years–one that may hold a key to the recent murder of their daughters’ teammate–and this knowledge both draws Annie closer to Paul and makes her urge him to share what he knows with the police, as well as with his wife Chris. Before the murder, Chris was convinced Paul was having an affair; she was wrong then, but even as that becomes more of a possibility, those worries have been pushed aside by her own growing obsession with the killer.
Murphy presents scenes in a snapshot-like manner, set up by the “this is the …” construction used in the novel’s title, that tell the reader which characters are present and what they’re thinking and doing. Annie is a photographer, and her sections are narrated in the second person–“this is you”—almost as if she’s looking back over her own pictures of a particularly disturbing swim-team season. The style feels choppy at times–not unlike the water churned up during a swim meet–but works to amplify the tensions created by the plot and the shifts in the characters’ relationships with one another. This Is the Water is a chilling combination of crime and domestic drama, and its effects linger.
In a quiet New England community members of a swim team and their dedicated parents are preparing for a home meet. The most that Annie, a swim-mom of two girls, has to worry about is whether or not she fed her daughters enough carbs the night before; why her husband, Thomas, hasn’t kissed her in ages; and why she can’t get over the loss of her brother who shot himself a few years ago.
But Annie’s world is about to change. From the bleachers, looking down at the swimmers, a dark haired man watches a girl. No one notices him. Annie is busy getting to know Paul, who flirts with Annie despite the fact that he’s married to her friend Chris, and despite Annie’s greying hair and crow’s feet. Chris is busy trying to discover whether or not Paul is really having an affair, and the swimmers are trying to shave milliseconds off their race times by squeezing themselves into skin-tight bathing suits and visualizing themselves winning their races.
When a girl on the team is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop—the same rest stop where Paul made a gruesome discovery years ago—the parents suddenly find themselves adrift. Paul turns to Annie for comfort. Annie finds herself falling in love. Chris becomes obsessed with unmasking the killer.
With a serial killer now too close for comfort, Annie and her fellow swim-parents must make choices about where their loyalties lie. As a series of startling events unfold, Annie discovers what it means to follow your intuition, even if love, as well as lives, could be lost.
“This is the water, lapping the edge of the pool, coming up in small waves as children race through it. This is the swim mom named Dinah wearing the team shirt with a whale logo on it, yelling at her daughter Jessie to swim faster. This is Jessie who cannot hear Dinah because Jessie is in the water. Jessie is singing a song to herself. She is singing ‘This old man, he played one. He played knick knack on his thumb.’ Dinah is red in the face, standing in the stands. Dinah moves her hand in the air as if to help hurry her daughter along. Behind the starting blocks the water comes up over the edge of the pool and splashes the parents who are timing on deck.”