Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Memory of Water

As is often the case, the cover drew me to The Memory of Water by Karen White—there was just something about the steely blue-green that guided my hand to pick this book up from the New in Fiction table instead, perhaps, the book next to it.

From the back cover
On the night their mother drowns trying to ride out a storm in a sailboat, sisters Marnie and Diana Maitland discover there is more than one kind of death. There are also the deaths of innocence, of love, and of hope. Both harbor secrets about what really happened that night—secrets that will erode their lives as they grow into adulthood. After ten years of silence between the sisters, Marnie is called back to the South Carolina Lowcountry by Diana’s ex-husband, Quinn. His young son has returned from a sailing trip with his emotionally unstable mother, and he is deeply disturbed and refusing to speak. In order to help the traumatized boy Marnie must reopen old wounds and bring the darkest memories of her past to the surface. And she must confront Diana…before they all go under.

Marnie, reacting to her decision first to leave to find her own life in Arizona, then to return to help her nephew:
She walked away quickly, her shoes kicking up gravel and sand and old crumbled shells, crushing them beneath her feet like dried-up dreams and memories she thought had long ago been relegated to dust.

Marnie, reflecting on the beauty of the marsh:
I watched as the creek surged at high tide, muddy brown and astonishingly strong. Despite everything, I still saw the beauty of the marsh and found respect for the strength that underlay its loveliness. My grandfather once told me that our Lowcountry marsh was like a mother to the mainland, buffering the continent from frequent storms like a mother would protect her children, and acting as the ocean’s incubator by nurturing the nourishing the filter feeders at the bottom of the food chain. I had liked this analogy, assuring me that nurturing mothers did exist after all, and I found comfort in the knowledge that I had been lucky enough to be born in this place of liquid arms and maternal love.

Marnie, remembering the wonder of believing in Santa Claus and the moment a child no longer believes:
I walked down the stairs, following the scent of roasting turkey and apple pie, feeling as giddy as a child. But there were no cookies for Santa or any other holiday traditions besides the opening of presents and the wonderful turkey dinner prepared by Quinn. He’d informed me that a year before Gil had approached him and calmly explained that there was no reason for his parents to stay up late on Christmas Eve to put together toys and lay out presents from Santa. Apparently Gil had ceased to believe in Santa following a forage into Quinn’s desk drawer to find a stapler when he had emerged instead with Gil’s letters to Santa, neatly tied with a ribbon. As sad as I’d been to hear that Gil’s childhood had grown a bit shorter, the story had also had the effect of fluttering my heart with the detail of Quinn keeping the letters and tying them with a ribbon.

Diana, remembering a love of books shared with her sister:
I stood and moved to the bookshelf I kept in the corner of my studio. It was filled with all the books I had ever owned. I‘d never been a huge reader like Marnie, but after she’d learned to read, it was to her voice that I fell asleep every night. Even now, when I pick up Anne of Green Gables or National Velvet, I hear Marnie’s voice reading to me. I have those books still, an innocent part of my childhood I shared with my sister that I could never give up.

Once settled into the multiple narrators’ voices (the sisters—Marnie and Diana; the ex-husband, Quinn; and the young son, Gil), I found this story of a family looking to heal and be whole again very captivating. Somewhat bothersome was the constant reminders of the “terrible thing that happened at sea that night.” That something went terribly wrong on a nighttime sail is the event that hurls the family’s story into full spin; constantly reminding me of this as the healing progresses was annoying.

Each chapter of The Memory of Water is headed with a quote which I like to go back and reread at the end of the chapter to see how/if the quote reinterprets the chapter just read. Here, out of context, are some I flagged:

The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by winds blowing from all four corners of heaen. ~ Martin Luther

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

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing river of time, the beginning and the end. ~ Rachel Carson

I finished the Memory of Water sitting at the Emerson Inn in Rockport, MA. The early April day was steely gray, and the ocean beyond the cove was filled with stormy whitecaps—the same setting that I have seen brilliant with sunlight reflecting from the crests of waves…memories of water.

Emerson Inn parlor.

The view outside.

4/5 (General Fiction scale)
NAL Accent (2008)
Trade Paperback
315 pages
Finished: April 2008

Dedication: This book is dedicated to the original Highfalutin, and to all those who lost so much in Hurricane Katrina.

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