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Monday, June 30, 2008

You Won't Be Able to Forget The Memory of Water

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it: and would not willingly remember that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang. - Herman Melville

On a stormy night 16 years ago, a mother in the throes of a manic episode dragged her daughters aboard her sailboat. Hurricane-force winds slapped the craft around, stealing control of the vessel. Before the night was over, the ocean claimed the mother, leaving her daughters adrift and terrified. Although the sisters were lucky to escape with their lives, the strange events of that night changed everything. The girls, who were once as close as twins in the womb, became living ghosts. Scared. Haunted. Strangers ...

The Memory of Water by Karen White begins 10 years later, when Marnie Maitland comes home to the South Carolina Lowcountry. She hasn't spoken to her sister Diana for a decade. Still, when Diana's ex-husband Quinn summons her home, she packs her bags and lands in the one spot she never thought she'd be again - her childhood home. She hasn't come for herself, or even for her sister, but for her 9-year-old nephew Gil. The boy has not spoken since the night his mother took him for his own storm-tossed boatride. Quinn hopes that Marnie, who teaches art to special needs students, can help him speak again. Although Marnie's own fears make her want to turn and flee, she knows she must try to help the boy whose terror reminds her so much of her own.

As weeks stretch into months, Marnie feels the distance she so carefully put between herself and home evaporate. Her true self comes back to her, along with repressed memories of the night her mother drowned. She wants to confront Diana, demand to know the truth of what happened, but her sister is dealing with her own demons. Like her mother before her, Diana battles bi-polar disorder. The manic episodes twist her mind, but allow her to paint with brilliance and abandon. Since her boat accident with Gil, Quinn forces her to take her meds in order to see her son. Since he cringes every time she comes near, Diana locks herself in her studio where she produces second-rate pieces she knows to be "the paintings of the drugs and not the true heart of the damaged artist" (69). So, Marnie stays away as well, keeping her distance from her turbulent sister.

Marnie's presence obviously agitates the unstable Diana, who vaccilates wildly between rationality and madness. She raves about the Maitland curse, painting a macabre timeline to document all the tragedies the family has experienced. Diana seems bent on releasing the secrets that are eating her alive, obsessed by stopping the madness before it consumes her son, but how far can she go before her tenuous hold on life slips away? And what of the others? Can they handle the ugly truths hidden in every nook and cranny of the family home? Pandora's Box has opened, and demons are running rampant - will any of them have what it takes to finally bring peace to the troubled Maitlands?

Told from 4 different viewpoints (Marnie, Diana, Gil and Quinn), The Memory of Water tells a complicated story that highlights the very thin line between love and hate. It asks tough questions - What happens when a mother favors one child over the other? Can a child ever survive betrayal by a parent? What is a family to do when mental illness threatens to tear it apart? And, most importantly, can the truth really set us free? These questions are explored through the eyes of a fascinating cast of characters in lovely, lyrical language. Although the plot is surprisingly predictable, the book clips along at a fast pace, propelled by the complexity of the characters and White's gift for speaking directly to the heart. It's compulsively readable, hauntingly beautiful and deeply resonate. I guarantee you won't be able to forget this book.

Grade: A-


  1. Another great sounding book and awesome review!! I love your blog!

  2. Wow, you really brought this book to life. Added to my list.


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