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Dark Water

Dark Water - Laura McNeal Welcome to Conflicted-Ville (population: one), where this ambivalent resident will attempt to stop flip-flopping between opinions and write a review with a modicum of coherency. This award-winning coming of age novel by Laura McNeal has garnered a bevy of praise and accolades, and much love from readers and reviewers alike for its beautifully written prose and thought provoking denouement. Dark Water has some serious literary style, in that the writing is considered and subtle. While atmospheric and elegantly descriptive, the writing is not flowery, or weighed down with clunky adjectives. Short, concise chapters also make the story flow easily. Each word feels carefully selected, sentences artfully constructed. The writing is clear, yet it plumbs hidden depths of complexity in terms of the themes it addresses. In fact, if this book was a river, it would be deep and wide and languid. It would have a still, reflective surface with a heavy current beneath. McNeal writes 15 year old Pearl DeWitt with a convincing, intelligent voice. Pearl’s relationships with the other characters are complicated. From her parent’s divorce, her cousin’s anger, her uncle’s possible adultery, Pearl’s feelings toward them are well-articulated, and true to her somewhat reflective teenage character. The dialogue, especially with her cousin Robby, is witty and crisp. Then there’s her attraction to almost mute, undocumented Mexican migrant worker Amiel. The catalyst for a series of choices Pearl will make with tragic consequences, the relationship is quite poignant. Yet, I feel it is a mistake to bill this book as a teenage romance, as while this is integral to the plot, the focus of the story is more on the far-reaching effects and fallout of the decisions the protagonist makes. It’s more about family, and mistakes, and disaster, and actions that can’t be undone, that will send a life hurtling down a different track with one small misstep of judgement. So, why the low / non-committal rating?Because I felt disconnected from this book as I read. Despite the gut-wrenching finale, and the masterful way impact was created from a somewhat somnolent beginning, I had too many periods of disengagement from Pearl. Even sections when I felt wholly frustrated and, dare I say it, bored with her. Objectively, I appreciated the writing, the symbolism, the bittersweet-ness and introspection of the story. But personally, I didn’t feel a moved as I wanted to be. Part of me wants to love it for the powerful, brave way McNeal chose to tell this story. Another part of me is just shoulder-shrugging, and frankly, left feeling a little bit ‘meh’. I liked it. I didn’t like it. It was deep and stirring. It was slow and tedious. I liked the main character. I was annoyed by her. Much starred, loved, praised, this is a well-written and intelligent book I would recommend to lovers of literary fiction. I’m glad I read Dark Water, but ultimately I just couldn’t fall in love with it.