I absolutely loved Girl on the Train, with its tight, claustrophobic feel that constantly keeps the reader shifting on unstable ground, as the main character herself questions the things she sees. Into the Water didn’t come close to that level of impact. The multiple perspectives detached me somewhat from the story, and while Nel’s death is sad and mysterious, it never quite felt immediate nor urgent. Some of the characters were interesting, but the switching perspectives and multiple story-lines just made it confusing and kinda muddled at times.
Hawkins tries very hard to make this story bigger than it actually is, but doesn’t quite deliver on the epic proportions she seems to aim for. For example, the death occurs in the Drowning Pool, a spot along the river where multiple women have drowned in the past, and which Hawkins not-very-subtly links thematically to the Salem witch trials. Nel’s death, and the deaths of at least one other woman in the town’s history, are thus tied in some way to men’s fear of their power as women, and Hawkins’ descriptions of the drownings hammer us over the head with this point. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite follow through on this theme. The actual motives for the murders are prosaic in comparison, and any connection to Salem fizzles out.
At its core, the story has promise — a troubled writer dies in a river, and her sister and daughter aren’t quite sure if she jumped or was pushed. Either option is linked to a story she’s working on that threatens to reveal deeply held secrets in her small town. Hawkins expands the scope dramatically, by introducing a large cast of characters and trying to hype up the “small town holds deep, dark secrets” trope. Unfortunately, the perspective is too wide for the “deep, dark secrets” to feel truly menacing, and while the townspeople are interesting, none of them are very actually memorable. The big reveal wasn’t as shocking as I’d imagined, and the villain is big and bad, but in a blunt hammer kind of way and nowhere near as chilling as the one in Girl on the Train.
Overall, it was not a bad book. The writing is good and the story is interesting. It just wasn’t as good as Girl on the Train, and I wish she’d employed a similar tight focus on this story. There was also one intriguing unanswered question (what did Lena do with the nail?).
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.