Title: The Drowning Kind
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Narrator: Joy Osmanski; Imani Jade Powers
Genre: Ghost Thriller; Gothic
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio, Gallery/Scout Press
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Length: 11hrs, 48min; 258p
Publishing Date: 06 April 2021

2020 was the year I started really appreciating (understanding?) the horror elements of gothic stories. There’s something about living in lockdown that offers a different way of looking at haunted places, especially in fiction. Places can, and do, take on a life of their own. Like a pit of sinking sand, the longer you stay in a place, the harder it is to leave. To get out. Some places don’t want to give up their guests, no matter how hard they try to leave. When Jax sees she has nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, it’s hard for her to ignore the pull back east — back to her grandmother’s estate in Vermont where she and Lexie spent their summers growing up. But when Lexie is found dead in the pool the next day, Jax has no choice but to travel back to Sparrow Crest.

There’s nothing in the water except what we bring in with us.

Jennifer mcmahon, the drowning kind

When Jax gets to Sparrow Crest, she’s shocked to find the estate reflecting the manic mindset she feared her sister had been in leading up to her death. Papers, notes, numbers that don’t make sense. She even finds the research on the family and the estate Lexie had done, following the history of the place back to when it was a hotel — The Brandenburg Springs Hotel and Resort — in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Ethel Monroe, thirty-seven and a newlywed, is desperate to visit the hotel when she learns about spring’s supposed powers for granting wishes. As Ethel’s story moves forward, Jax continues to sift back through her sister’s final days, hoping to find some reason for Lexie’s death.

Combining the best elements of haunted house stories with a complex journey through grief makes Jennifer McMahon’s The Drowning Kind dark, twisty, and compelling. I’m a huge fan of setting as character and there’s no denying the springs are their own character. Not only do they have their own legend, their own mythology, but it has a dark legacy that serves as a reminder that magic, miracles — whatever you want to call them — always have a price. And the spring always gets payment for the wishes it grants.

I remembered being in that pool, how stunningly cold it was. How my whole body screamed with it. And that feeling, that feeling of fingers touching me, hands reaching out of the darkness to take hold of me.

Jennifer mcmahon, The Drowning kind

Beyond the horror and supernatural elements I loved in The Drowning Kind, I felt there was something deeper being said about gender, legacy, and punishment. In one way or another, the women of The Drowning Kind are the ones who ultimately pay the price. Similar to Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, women are lured, pulled, pushed into the pool by the hands of someone else or by the weight of their own guilt and grief. The flashbacks between the early 1930’s and present day don’t just build up the mythology of the spring, but demonstrate how much — and how very little — gender relations and power dynamics have changed. Eve bit the apple and got her and Adam banished from the Garden of Eden. Ethel, Jax, Lexie, and the others who come into contact with the spring, struggle with whether or not the spring is their apple or their garden.

Thought-provoking and chilling, The Drowning Kind is the perfect blend of ghost story, psychological thriller, and historical fiction with a truly shocking ending.

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