EP04: There’s Something in the Water

In today’s episode, I will be discussing The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon. I was very excited to read the ghost story.

Books Mentioned

The Drowning Kind book cover
The Lost Village book cover
  • The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
  • The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Transcript

Hello and welcome back to Mel Talks Books. I’m your host Mel and I talk about the books that I’ve been currently reading.

So today we are on episode four. And I will be talking about The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon. This is an adult ghost story, horror story, psychological thriller, you take your pick. It was definitely one that I have thoughts on.

Now before we get started, let’s give a brief description of the book. This follows Jackie, also known as Jax, and she receives a string of calls from her sister who is quite frantic and due to their estrangement, Jax does not answer the calls. However, she wakes up the next day and finds out that her sister has drowned in the pool behind her house.

She finds herself having to go there and clean out the house, grieve, and deal with the after effects of losing her sister. And we find out that things aren’t exactly what they seem. Not only does her sister Lex, or Lexie, have all of this stuff around the house.

She has notes and observations and jars of water, as if she was trying to conduct a scientific experiment. She’s also trying to deal with and reconcile with the past while she’s grieving. And we find out that things aren’t exactly what it seems with the water in the pool, and that there’s actually a history with that as well.

Now, this book also has chapters that alternate with a storyline from the past. And this follows Ethel Monroe who is trying to have a baby. She’s in her 30’s, so it’s getting a little bit harder and harder. And her husband and herself haven’t had much luck with the process.

So her husband finds this hotel that says it has a spring with magical properties. And people who go and bath in the water and drink the water have miracles happen. And so Ethel sees this as a way to finally get the child that she’s always wanted.

And obviously the past and the present converge surrounding the water and what it entails.

Now my usual disclaimer will go right here. This is a full on discussion of the book. I will be talking spoilers as I don’t want to limit my conversation. So if you want to read this and you haven’t already, please just pause, go do that and then come back. Or if you just don’t care, and you’ll enjoy the spoilers then thank you and continue listening.

All right, so let’s just dive right into this book discussion.

I actually had a difficult time getting into this one, I took a couple months to read it and it’s only a 300 something page book. But, I found it very slow and I just I don’t know. Sometimes you just don’t feel it. But I really wanted to see where the plot was going. And so at least the author had hooked my interest enough to get me to finish it.

But overall, this was just an okay book for me, and I can’t exactly pinpoint what it is but I felt a little disappointed by it. And I love a good ghost story. I was also disappointed by The Last Village that I covered in episode one. I don’t really know what’s going on I might need to switch up some genres because it’s just not working out for me right now.

Jax and Lex

But let’s start off by talking about the sisters in this book Jax and Lex, or Jackie and Lexie. Jackie at the point when all of this occurs, she’s living in I think Washington State. She’s quite a bit away from her sister. They’re estranged and they haven’t talked in about a year. There’s definitely reasons why which we’ll get into more a little bit later.

Jackie she feels as if she had to always take care of her sister, was picking up the pieces. And felt that she really lost a bits of herself in the process of dealing with Lexie and everything that that entailed. So they haven’t spoken for a year.

And when the phone calls begin at the very beginning of the novel, it just feels like this is another manic episode that Lexie is going through and so Jax ignores it. She just doesn’t want to deal with this situation. Unfortunately, Lexie does drown in the pool and so Jackie has to confront this situation and their relationship head on.

And a lot of the novel deals with Jax reconciling her relationship with Lex. She feels guilty. And we later find out that part of her guilt comes from the fact that she made a wish to the water that she didn’t want Lex to be perfect. She felt that Lex was everyone’s favorite and had everything.

So, she did wish at a young age to basically punish Lex for being that way. It wasn’t too long after that all of these other symptoms occurred. So, I think she feels that it was her fault. Whether or not it was that’s up to interpretation.

But I think it was interesting to see her not only grieve the relationship that they did have, but also trying to forgive herself. She believes she was neglecting her sister. It’s interesting because you really only get this one sided aspect of it since Lex is gone and we don’t know how she truly felt about everything.

There are instances where Jax will hear Lexie in her head. And so we don’t really know, since this is a ghost story, whether or not that’s actually the ghost speaking or if this is in Jackie. Or is Jackie starting to get a little detached from reality?

But I think their relationship was very centralized and that was kind of the whole point of the book, especially as we get to the end is those two going and coming back together.

Spring Water

So on the property where Lex is living, this used to be their grandmother’s house, and then she inherited it, there is a pool that’s made with spring water. It’s a natural pool, they just excavated it at one point and the water runs through. So you don’t really have to do a lot of maintenance to it.

However, this pool is extremely cold. It’s very dark. You can’t see much beyond your your hands. And and there’s some stuff going on. I mean, the water is definitely a character in itself.

In this book, we find out through interactions in the past and the present that although the spring give us miracles, there’s also a price that must be paid, and that it does take away as well. Now this might occur from the death of a loved one. Or it could be how after time it rescinds the miracle that it created for you.

There’s definitely something going on here that enough people were drawn to it because of the good it could do. And yet you had all these whisperings of you should really stay away. But it felt like many people who knew and had the warnings still couldn’t keep themselves away from the water. They were drawn to it.

And so you had to sort of wonder, why? What was the whole point of this? And why would you want to be around something that was obviously quite dangerous?

The water had at some times produced ghosts. And we had several instances where people whether they were working at the hotel or the house, or were just townspeople, they had instances where they saw a figure that was trying to lure them into the pool, probably to drown them.

And it was very eerie that they seem to have these people kind of coming and going based on who you’re dealing with. And we later find out that they are people who were previously drowned in the spring water and somehow they’re being held their their spirits are being held there.

So, the ghosts will pop up every once in a while and try to get another person to come in. We have this weird thing where Jackie wants to be with Lexie, she feels guilty. She is trying to figure out what to do at this point. And then you have this ghost that’s all of a sudden kind of lingering around.

And I think it creates a lot of confusion, especially so early on in this period of grief.

But I mean, the water was interesting. We don’t really get a sense of why the water is the way that it is. We don’t hear anything about an old legend or in ancient area. It just is this way and as far as we know, that’s what it is.

And anytime someone tries to claim it as their own things do not go well. So this water wants to have multiple people around it. It wants to be independent. And I think a lot of that is because it draws its power from the people who die there.

Throughout the novel we find out numerous people have drowned. There’s obviously a lot more that we never even knew about. And it makes it that much scarier. You have to really wonder why they refuse to fill in the pool.

And I get that after you’ve read it, you do start to understand. Maggie had to be close to the water to continue living, obviously, that’s a really tough choice to make. So if she wanted to live, she had to have this water.

But I’m wondering why afterwards, nothing happened? Or even before that, as things were occurring. Why did no one try to stop it?

I think we all want miracles and that draws us in so much more than the bad stuff does. And you always think, well, it’s not gonna happen to me. And so the water just continued to have control over this whole area.

Mental Illness

Now, although this is a ghost story, and I think they make it quite clear that there really is something going on with the spring water, there’s a huge element of persons with mental illness and how that plays into the events that are occurring.

I find it interesting that we have so many characters that have something. I don’t know if it’s intentional to say that we all have issues, or if it’s to just show that this certain family has a history with this. I’m not quite sure.

You have Ethel in the past, which we find out is the great grandmother. So she is self harming and obviously has anxiety and problems with that. We have the dad of Jax and Lex, Ted, I think his name was. He also possibly had bipolar disorder. I can’t remember if he was diagnosed with it or not, but he tends to just ignore it as an issue and live his life.

We have Lex, who lived with bipolar disorder. And you also had the grandmother. Maggie was agoraphobic; she wouldn’t leave her house. So here we have multiple generations of this family with a mental illness.

And ironically, Jackie is a social worker. She’s a therapist; she is trying to help people. And so she should fully understand it. And yet as the rest of the book unfolds, and she slowly loses her grip with reality, you do start to question whether or not she has something else going on.

Does she also have an illness that we don’t know about that she doesn’t know about? Or are these creepy supernatural events really occurring?

I think having all of these persons being unstable in some way lends itself to you believing that Jax could also you know, maybe not be 100% there, but I don’t know. Was it necessary? Was it really necessary to the plot? I don’t know, you tell me if you think that it was because I’m not entirely sure.

Ethel

Let’s talk about Ethel in the past.

This was an interesting plotline. And it takes you a long time. I mean, pretty much until the end of the book, to get the connection between Ethel’s story and the present with Jackie.

I thought I was pretty well done. I almost enjoyed the past stuff more than the present. She wants this baby. They go to the hotel, she meets the owner, she befriends the owner’s wife. And, she starts to drink this water and they’ve bathed in it, they swam in it.

She does end up getting pregnant. She gets what she wants. However, the spring doesn’t give without taking and several deaths occur at the hotel after they were there, including her friend. And eventually it burns down.

While Ethel has her baby, things with her husband are slowly becoming a bit more stressful. And she’s very happy about the child. But occasionally things just feel a little off. And the baby ends up coming prematurely and has a problem that she’s very sickly, has a heart defect and won’t make it.

Until they figure out that they can continue her life by giving Maggie the spring water. That just makes the problem disappear completely.

So since the hotel had burned down, the husband decides to move the family to that property. They build their own house and at this point, I feel really knows that something is wrong, that they shouldn’t be there. But yet, they’ve been stuck because their daughter has no choice but to use this water to survive.

That’s probably a really hard choice that they both had to make. One to believe that this was actually happening and that the water was providing this, and then to subject your daughter to that type of thing. She couldn’t leave and she couldn’t go out of town because she couldn’t be far away from the spring.

This is what caused her to not be able to leave the house. So whether or not she was agoraphobic, I’m not sure it could have been true. I’m sure after so many instances where you tried to leave and things happen that it probably could become a phobia.

It’s quite interesting how that family ends up getting trapped there. And the events that happened in the past fully create the problems that are in the present.

I definitely felt bad for Ethel because I think as time continued, she probably harbored a lot of guilt over the events that occurred. And I don’t think you can blame her, especially not at the beginning. As a parent, I probably would do anything I could to save my child too. But it’s got to be a really hard place.

She had a lot of heartache and a lot of problems. I feel bad for her. I just, I really feel bad for her daughter. And I think Maggie had a really hard life.

Creepy Factor

I found the supernatural elements of this book to be quite slow. The build up didn’t happen very quickly. And it was a little hard to differentiate what was intentionally spooky, versus just the characters going through stuff.

I think that led to a little bit of why I didn’t enjoy this as much. Some things just felt a little disconnected. I understood that we’re supposed to know that the water is haunted in a certain way, and that we’re seeing ghosts of people who have drowned. But, it was so tiny, like these tiny things happen.

Maybe there was water. Maybe we heard Lexie speaking to Jackie. But then you weren’t really sure if that was happening or not. It was just the little things like how she shut the door and screwed it shut so no one can go outside. It just didn’t have the impact that I think the author intended of building up this creepy factor.

To me it just fell flat and and then all of a sudden, we got towards the conclusion and the events that occurred really built up by that point with Jackie accusing the other family of sabotage. Then understanding what’s really happening with the water, and getting to that point of knowing something else is going on.

The dad is also experiencing these supernatural events and Jackie realizes they could be in danger.

Overall, I didn’t think it was enough. I wanted more of the ghost story. I wanted to feel that threat I wanted to feel when I was reading it that like the walls were closing in on me that there was this inevitable thing coming. And I just don’t think that that quite delivered.

Jax’s Fate

After reading this, I definitely had some questions left over. And I know from some reviews that I looked at, some people were also confused about the ending of the novel.

So when we get to the end, things have really ramped up and we understand that there is a ghost in the water and that the water itself is trying to lure these family members, especially Ted and Jax to the water potentially to be drowned. And it’s using Lexie as the person who’s trying to get them to come in.

So we get towards this conclusion. We find out about the family history; she thinks that it’s sabotage. We get through that one and then all of a sudden Ted goes into the water and he’s drowning. Jackie has to save him and then ends up drowning herself by being pulled under.

This chapter concludes with her seeing a bunch of different ghosts. She says that she herself glows. But she also gets pulled out so it’s not until the epilogue that I felt that you got a very definitive, clear idea that she died.

She is now dead.

She’s with her sister. She’s unaccepting of that fact and wants to try to pretend that she is still alive in the instances where there are other people around.

I also think this was made pretty clear because the author basically gave the ending away in the prologue. If you look back, the end of the prologue ends in the same way that the book does. She’s talking about the two girls drowning or playing dead in the water; two girls floating in the water.

So to me, the fact that she gave that foreshadowing or just plain and told you what was happening at the very beginning makes it very clear to me that Jackie died at the end. There’s no confusion for me on that one.

Lingering Questions

However, I did have a few lingering questions.

The first one actually had to deal with Declan, who was one of the clients for Jackie. He had seen her drowning or being pulled under by the fish that weren’t exactly what they said they were. And this was kind of a tiny, tiny subplot throughout the novel.

He was showing behavior that he hasn’t shown in a while, all regarding the fish in the water. And I felt that one this plot didn’t really add much. It didn’t really add anything to the story. I think it was just mainly there to foreshadow.

But to me, it was completely unnecessary. She never really gets a hold of him. And so by the end, she’s supposed to be talking to him on the phone, and he was supposed to be a cause of some of the creepy things that happen with phone calls with breathing.

And then her aunt said that no one was on the phone line. So, it was just another one of those questions. Did he even exist to begin with? Or was this all just a figment of Jackie’s imagination? And are we having an unreliable narrator situation going on here?

But I really just want to know what was the point? I think even if you took all that out, it would have been the exact same story. I wanted to know why? Why did Declan see this? Was he clairvoyant?

I mean, this is someone who was never even around the spring water. So why would he have seen or had a vision of something bad happening, I just, I really wanted to answer that. And we’re never going to get one.

The other thing that bothered me was the fact that Jackie’s aunt ends up living in the house afterwards. So Diane had said on multiple occasions during the novel that she was done with the house. She didn’t like the house and she didn’t want to be there. And when they had discussions of who would take over as ownership, she made it very clear that she didn’t want to.

However, at the end of the novel, in the epilogue, it shown that they are at the house. That Diane is there with her girlfriend. Now, I know that Terri was having some health issues, and maybe their only reason for being there is because of the miracle medicinal properties of the water. And this is really just desperation.

But to me, it seemed a little out of character. But maybe that was the whole point, right? That even though we knew something bad was happening, people just couldn’t stay away from it. Maybe. I don’t know, I just felt like it seemed very unlikely that she would be there at the end, especially after both of her nieces died.

Why would you? Why would you stay? Why would you not try to get rid of that water? I just don’t fully understand that.

Conclusion

All right. Well, that’s pretty much my main talking points on that one.

As I said before, this was just kind of an okay novel for me. I wanted to see a little bit more of the creepiness and those horror elements, the Gothic elements to be thrown in since this was a ghost story. And I just didn’t feel like it was there.

I felt the whole pacing was very slow and it did take me a long time to get into this one. I probably would have tossed it if it wasn’t in a genre that I really, really enjoyed.

I think there’s a lot of that questioning about the psychological aspects to this. What’s real and what’s not? And I think the author was trying to weave that in a lot more to make you as a reader really start to question whether or not the supernatural things were happening.

It’s hard when you don’t really like something and you can’t completely say why you didn’t.

I think a lot of people will like this book. I think it’ll become quite popular, but for me, it was just a bit of a mess.

Alright, well, that concludes my discussion for today.

Thank you so much for listening to my discussion on The Drowning Kind. If you’ve read this book, let me know what you thought about it. Hopefully, you got a little bit more enjoyment than I did.

But you know, these opinions are all subjective. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that other people also have to feel the same way. It’s sort of what I love about art and books is that we all get what we need to out of them and we can all have different opinions. There’s no right or wrong thought about it.

I look forward to speaking to you guys again soon. You can check out more about our podcast at meltalksbooks.com or follow me on Instagram @meltalksbookspodcast. I’m going to try to post a little bit more but honestly, I’ve never been too good at social media. We’ll see how that goes.

But either way, thank you all again and I will talk to you all next week with another book. Bye.