This Is the Water
Yannick Murphy's latest novel, THIS IS THE WATER, is populated by the kinds of parents we're probably all familiar with. These are the ones whose daily and weekly schedules are dictated by their children's extracurricular activities --- activities that those same parents probably encouraged their kids to take up in the first place but now are starting to perhaps regret.
In this case, the activity is swimming. The parents at the center of Murphy's novel have kids who are solid competitive swimmers, have started traveling to out-of-town meets, beat themselves up when their times don't improve, and harbor secret (or not-so-secret) hopes that swimming will be their ticket to an athletic scholarship at a good college.
"THIS IS THE WATER offers a rare combination of literary merit and genuine suspense. It is lyrical and fluid, like the swimming pool that plays such a key role in its prose."
Their parents, of course, are there to cheer them on, not only at those weekend swim meets but also at daily practices. While they record their children's time, they judge each other, sizing up who's a little too invested in their child's success (Dinah's mother) and who's maybe not invested enough (Annie, who often swims laps herself while the team works out in adjacent lanes). Meanwhile, little do the parents or swimmers know that there is a killer among them, an inconspicuous observer who's busy planning his next murder.
When one of the girls on the swim team becomes the murder victim, suspicions run high, especially when Annie discovers that another swim dad (one with whom she's having a not-so-innocent flirtation) may know something about the murder. Preoccupied by memories of her brother's suicide and worries that her husband is no longer affectionate toward her, Annie becomes increasingly fixated on the killer, finally taking actions that will surprise many readers.
THIS IS THE WATER offers a rare combination of literary merit and genuine suspense. It is lyrical and fluid, like the swimming pool that plays such a key role in its prose. The "This is the…" phrasing of the novel's title recurs throughout the book, as Murphy offers readers a portrait of this very particular community and its environs: "This is the outside. A bright New England day that is almost spring, but not quite…. These are the two highways behind the lawn of the facility, the cars going by quickly, most of the drivers wanting to leave the area whose exits are congested with shopping stores and food chains." The result of this style is a sort of stream-of-consciousness narrative, but the consciousness Murphy explores (despite her second-person focus on Annie) is a collective one.
The books that most spring to mind when reading THIS IS THE WATER are Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES and, especially, Tom Perrotta's LITTLE CHILDREN. As in Perrotta's novel, Murphy explores the secrets adults make and keep, the betrayals they commit, and the lies they tell to each other and themselves, even while they're ostensibly focused on their children's safety and success. THIS IS THE WATER is as unsettling and thought-provoking for these reasons as it is for its depiction of violence.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 8, 2014