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River Bend, Michigan, is the kind of small town most can't imagine leaving, but three women couldn't wait to escape. When each must return—Linda Williams, never sure what she wants; her mother, Paula, always too sure; and Beth DeWitt, one of River Bend's only black daughters, now a mother of two who'd planned to raise her own children anywhere else—their paths collide unde River Bend, Michigan, is the kind of small town most can't imagine leaving, but three women couldn't wait to escape. When each must return—Linda Williams, never sure what she wants; her mother, Paula, always too sure; and Beth DeWitt, one of River Bend's only black daughters, now a mother of two who'd planned to raise her own children anywhere else—their paths collide under Beth's father's roof. As one town struggles to contain all of their love affairs and secrets, a local scandal forces Beth to confront her own devastating past. Filled with the voices of mothers and daughters, husbands, lovers, and fathers, The House of Deep Water explores motherhood, trauma, love, loss, and new beginnings found in a most unlikely place: home.


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River Bend, Michigan, is the kind of small town most can't imagine leaving, but three women couldn't wait to escape. When each must return—Linda Williams, never sure what she wants; her mother, Paula, always too sure; and Beth DeWitt, one of River Bend's only black daughters, now a mother of two who'd planned to raise her own children anywhere else—their paths collide unde River Bend, Michigan, is the kind of small town most can't imagine leaving, but three women couldn't wait to escape. When each must return—Linda Williams, never sure what she wants; her mother, Paula, always too sure; and Beth DeWitt, one of River Bend's only black daughters, now a mother of two who'd planned to raise her own children anywhere else—their paths collide under Beth's father's roof. As one town struggles to contain all of their love affairs and secrets, a local scandal forces Beth to confront her own devastating past. Filled with the voices of mothers and daughters, husbands, lovers, and fathers, The House of Deep Water explores motherhood, trauma, love, loss, and new beginnings found in a most unlikely place: home.

30 review for The House of Deep Water

  1. 5 out of 5

    Toni

    Multi-layered, deep, thought-provoking, The House of Deep Water is so good that it leaves you with a bookish hangover. Jeni McFarland's writing is heart-breakingly beautiful. It is full of rich memorable imagery and human emotion that makes you relate and care about these deeply flawed characters. At the beginning I took notes to help me make sense of the family trees and interconnections. Each character grows and develops, but as I kept reading I realised all of them are important. is essential. Multi-layered, deep, thought-provoking, The House of Deep Water is so good that it leaves you with a bookish hangover. Jeni McFarland's writing is heart-breakingly beautiful. It is full of rich memorable imagery and human emotion that makes you relate and care about these deeply flawed characters. At the beginning I took notes to help me make sense of the family trees and interconnections. Each character grows and develops, but as I kept reading I realised all of them are important. is essential. It is a bit like going to a family reunion or a wedding at the beginning of your relationship. So many people want to talk to you, you struggle to read social clues, desperately trying to remember what you heard about them. With time it becomes easier and you long for that blissful ignorance that allowed you make your opinion without the burden of other people's set ideas. Every character in this book grows and develops and is essential. Two families, Williamses and DeWitts, and three women who left their hometown of River's Bend, Michigan, and came back because they need a closure and a new start in life -that's all. Newly divorced Linda Williams, who wants to be loved and taken care of, but doesn't really have clear ideas how, her estranged, foul-mouthed, strong-willed mother Paula Williams, who needs a divorce from Linda's stepfather, and Beth (Eliza) DeWitt who is trying to provide a stable life for her kids after she lost her job. Linda gets pregnant and moves in with the father of her future baby, sixty-year-old Ernest DeWitt, Beth's father. Beth is struggling with depression and has unresolved issues with her father, so understandably she isn't happy about the situation. Throughout the book we read extracts from her 'diary' or rather 'memory flashbacks of Eliza DeWitt' starting from the age of 4. The more you read, the better you understand the significance of these two names for the character's identity. Everything in this book is important, there is no superfluous detail, be it Beth's engagement ring or Paula's truck that allows her escape when life closes on her and becomes unbearably real. Family ties and the way they break and make us, what it means to fit in and belong somewhere, fear of life and love, motherhood, racism, overcoming childhood trauma are just a few themes that this brilliant book explores. One of the best books I have read this year, The House of Deep Water is incredibly well-written and although there is a lot of sadness in this book, there is also hope. Hope that we can turn our lives round, we can draw ourselves into history, we can be better parents to protect and give our children confidence to make their own free choices in life. Thank you to Edelweiss and G.P.Putnam's Sons for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Thoughts to follow

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    4.5 stars. Give or take a few hundredths, I’ve spent 74.4% of my life to date as a Michigan resident. I’m not, nor have I ever been, terribly good at math, so take that number as more of a loose approximation than anything. Either way I’ve got some history with the mitten state, and while I’m far enough removed from it to no longer consider it my residence, it will always hold a place in my heart. For better and worse. Which is to say I continue to be drawn to novels in which Michigan plays a role 4.5 stars. Give or take a few hundredths, I’ve spent 74.4% of my life to date as a Michigan resident. I’m not, nor have I ever been, terribly good at math, so take that number as more of a loose approximation than anything. Either way I’ve got some history with the mitten state, and while I’m far enough removed from it to no longer consider it my residence, it will always hold a place in my heart. For better and worse. Which is to say I continue to be drawn to novels in which Michigan plays a role, whether as a primary setting or even a tertiary one. Much of this allure is to gage the authenticity of the source, to determine whether they themselves were current or former residents, or at the very least did their homework. It wasn’t until I was less than 40 pages from completing the magnificent debut from Jeni McFarland, The House of Deep Water, until I let my curiosity get the best of me and looked up the author’s background. Sure enough, she “has lived in Michigan”. I was hardly surprised. While I may be over a decade removed from having lived there myself, I was instantly brought back to my native land through McFarland’s vivid prose, lush as a valley of succulents, words dripping with a purity similar to that which the state prides (and brands) itself upon. That said, The House of Deep Water is not a book about Michigan per se, though it plays such a predominate role it wouldn’t be far off to consider it one of the novel’s many memorable characters. And while McFarland skillfully touches upon a bevy of themes – race, identity, sexual abuse, isolation – above all The House of Deep Water is a book about family, and the redemption families experience when united in both bliss and (most especially) sorrow. Full disclosure: despite my aforementioned upbringing, I had to look up whether or not River Bend, Michigan was actually a real town (it’s not, though there is a resort of the same name in its general vicinity on the western end of the state). Not that it mattered, to be honest; McFarland breathes so much life into this dying town it all but exists in my mind. The House of Deep Water tells the story of three women born and raised in River Bend who are not only desperate to leave it the first chance they could get, but who ultimately return seeking some semblance of restoration. Linda Williams, the oldest of three sisters, is a homemaker who married her snooty college sweetheart and followed him to Houston. As we’re introduced to Linda, she’s already in midst of driving back to the hometown she so quickly escaped; after 6 years of marriage – and more significantly, 6 years away from River Bend – Linda has realized “she didn’t belong to that life.” Yet despite not really knowing what kind of life she does belong to, Linda flees to River Bend with hopes of a fresh start. Spoiler alert: it’s probably not the fresh start Linda had been envisioning. Linda’s lifelong inclination for indecision is likely a direct result of her own mother’s instability. Paula is your quintessential trainwreck mom, one with a proclivity for flight; after several temporary absences Paula eventually absconds River Bend, abandoning three daughters, a husband and her own mother (who’d acted as the only reliable guardian Paula’s girls ever had). Having landed out west Paula finds a new man who’s poised to marry her – problem is, she’s still married; Paula returns to her hometown to finalize her divorce. Lastly there is Beth, whom if The House of Deep Water were to have a singular protagonist would be the novel’s central figure (no surprise given McFarland based the character on her own life, another tidbit I’d uncovered when researching the author’s background). Through Beth, McFarland offers us her most complex character, one rife with a variety of struggles: she’s half-black, practically alien in the lilywhite, Dutch-dominated area of western Michigan, one of many reasons why she left; she herself is recently divorced; she’s been recently fired from her job as a chef; she’s the primary caregiver of her two children, whom she’s relocating to Michigan due to a lack of any other more desirable opportunities. Most of all, Beth is haunted by her childhood, one that’s tragically unfurled in her voice through short sections sandwiched in between the novel’s lengthier chapters. After this trio of women descend upon River Bend they soon find themselves under the same roof, one owned by Beth’s father, a noted philanderer who’d since started a relationship with (not to mention impregnated) Linda. It’s within this house all matters come to a head, whether it be old secrets revealed or new ones made, memories rekindled or established anew. McFarland fluidly shifts from one perspective to the next, an onslaught of voices, each distinct and crystal clear despite their muddied histories. At it’s very best, the results are breathtaking. And yet my only issue with The House of Deep Water is that it sometimes – not often – had one too many cooks in its kitchen. As gracefully McFarland’s shifts of perspective were executed, there were moments where I had to backtrack in order to gain a grasp on who was who, and what their purpose served. Given this mostly occurred when reintroducing some of the novel’s more secondary characters (for instance, Paula’s husband, Jared; his son, Derek; Linda’s sisters), it’s hardly a major knock; if anything, it’s a declaration on family, how its cavalcade of opinions often blends into one another. Hell, I’ve been with my wife for the better part of two decades and still can’t keep much of her extended family straight. That’s both the beauty and ugliness of family, though, how one’s brood can offer love and support one moment, and tear you to shreds the next. Family is, essentially, one’s home, one’s foundation built to last yet susceptible to cracks. I suppose that’s why I was so taken by The House of Deep Water. And I also suppose it’s why Michigan will always be special to me, no matter how far removed I am from living there. It’s where my family remains, where my own personal home – cracks and all – resides. I thank Jeni McFarland for reminding me. [Many thanks to Putnam for the ARC in exchange for this rather bloviated review.]

  4. 5 out of 5

    ABookwormWithWine

    The House of Deep Water by Jeni McFarland is a thought-provoking novel that has many layers but is predominately about family. There are quite a few characters and viewpoints so at times I found myself a little confused, but if you have the physical copy there is a family tree in the front of the book that I found extremely helpful. I choose to listen to the audio and follow along in a physical copy, and I loved the audio. This is a slow burn, so it really helped with that, and there are multipl The House of Deep Water by Jeni McFarland is a thought-provoking novel that has many layers but is predominately about family. There are quite a few characters and viewpoints so at times I found myself a little confused, but if you have the physical copy there is a family tree in the front of the book that I found extremely helpful. I choose to listen to the audio and follow along in a physical copy, and I loved the audio. This is a slow burn, so it really helped with that, and there are multiple narrators which is something I always appreciate when there is more than one viewpoint. In case anyone is interested, the narrators are Allyson Johnson, Adenrele Ojo, Jonathan McClain, and Andrew Eiden and I thought they all did an amazing job. There are a lot of issues that McFarland decided to tackle in this book, and I loved the way she decided to integrate them with how it effects a family and different relationships. Elizabeth (Beth) may have had the most heartbreaking story of all, and I really liked the way the book was broken up by short chapters of her at different ages, as well as her viewpoint in the present. McFarland slowly unravels her story for the reader, and just why she acts the way she does now. I loved McFarland's writing style, and it was very atmospheric, smooth, and immersive. I ended up enjoying The House of Deep Water a lot more than I thought I would (based on reviews I saw) and I'm so glad I read it. I don't think anything I say will actually do this book justice, so I will just say that if you like slow burns that deal with lots of social issues and family then I would recommend checking this one out. Audio may in fact be the best way to go, but I was engrossed by all of the stories, and finished it in just one day. Overall, it was very character-driven so if you like that sort of book you should enjoy The House of Deep Water. Thank you to the publisher for my advance review copy via Edelweiss. All opinions and thoughts are my own.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mackey

    The House of Deep Water is a slow churning, atmospheric story of three women and the family that surrounds them as they come crashing together under one roof in the small midwestern town of River Bend. Jeni McFarland covers topics that many today are coping with: abuse - spousal and familial, racial tensions, small town poverty, and isolationism. She tells the story of these women deftly, with a stoicism that sets apart the midwestern people, gives them the appearance of being hard when, in fact The House of Deep Water is a slow churning, atmospheric story of three women and the family that surrounds them as they come crashing together under one roof in the small midwestern town of River Bend. Jeni McFarland covers topics that many today are coping with: abuse - spousal and familial, racial tensions, small town poverty, and isolationism. She tells the story of these women deftly, with a stoicism that sets apart the midwestern people, gives them the appearance of being hard when, in fact, they are hurting like everyone else. The story flows slowly along much like the river does through the town but it never falters. The House of Deep Water is not a cozy, feel good women's tale but one of reality about the hardships many women - and men - face in today's society. If you are looking for a really good read that will keep your attention and make you more aware at the end than you were at the beginning, then this is the book for you this summer!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    THE HOUSE OF DEEP WATER deserves at least 4.5 stars. The novel concerns three women who come back to Rivers Bend, MI after escaping this same horrible place. I felt a real horror when I realized why Beth DeWitt is so broken she seems almost ruined. There are several people that cause me to feel almost the same way. I believe most people will understand the feelings of lose and heartbreak I felt when reading this book which caused me so much deep thinking.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Susie Dumond

    Beth fought tooth and nail to escape her hometown of River Bend, Michigan, where she grew up in the town's only black family. But when she returns with her two children to live with her father, her painful childhood and messy past relationships come back to haunt her. THE HOUSE OF DEEP WATER is a haunting tale of the painful clash between the person you were, the person you are, and the person you want to be. River Bend is portrayed in part as the villain of the story, a poisonous place that keep Beth fought tooth and nail to escape her hometown of River Bend, Michigan, where she grew up in the town's only black family. But when she returns with her two children to live with her father, her painful childhood and messy past relationships come back to haunt her. THE HOUSE OF DEEP WATER is a haunting tale of the painful clash between the person you were, the person you are, and the person you want to be. River Bend is portrayed in part as the villain of the story, a poisonous place that keeps calling its children back against their will. Beth is a deeply flawed protagonist, and her grim return to her hometown is often hard to watch. Each character in River Bend assumes the worst of others while hoping others see the best in them, an eye-opening contrast that builds with each new voice added to the story. It took me a while to get into this one, but the slow building tension led to a powerful finish, so I'm glad I stuck around. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected, given the subject matter. The writing was really good, even when she changed between first and third person. The characters weren’t likeable, but I found myself rooting for them anyway. Worth reading! 4 stars

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    Thanks to Netgalley and Putnam for the e arc. Also thanks to Goodreads for a physical copy of this book. I liked the premise of the book- different women and family members in a small Michigan town. However I had a hard time following the story in some parts and overall it seemed like there were too many characters. This is compounded by the fact that there is an extensive chart at the front of the book to help you remember who is who. The book should’ve talked about maybe 3-4 characters and tha Thanks to Netgalley and Putnam for the e arc. Also thanks to Goodreads for a physical copy of this book. I liked the premise of the book- different women and family members in a small Michigan town. However I had a hard time following the story in some parts and overall it seemed like there were too many characters. This is compounded by the fact that there is an extensive chart at the front of the book to help you remember who is who. The book should’ve talked about maybe 3-4 characters and that’s it. It was hard to care about some of the characters when you didn’t get a chance to really learn about them. I was frequently confused while reading this. I did like how the author wrote and wished the book had been just a little simpler.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    There are a lot of good writers out there. But rarely do I find one who writes with such personality. This being a debut, the level of confidence in her voice is stunning. The actual plot and story, while interesting, is secondary to everything else. The pacing of the scenes, how every chapter is neither too long or too short but instead the perfect length is masterly. The drama is never petty and forces you to empathize with the characters. The town is a real place that you want to be a part of There are a lot of good writers out there. But rarely do I find one who writes with such personality. This being a debut, the level of confidence in her voice is stunning. The actual plot and story, while interesting, is secondary to everything else. The pacing of the scenes, how every chapter is neither too long or too short but instead the perfect length is masterly. The drama is never petty and forces you to empathize with the characters. The town is a real place that you want to be a part of rather than only being able to read about it. It’s unfortunate this book didn’t get more buzz when it was released, but I can’t wait to see what Jeni McFarland has up her sleeve for the future. There’s undoubtedly a masterpiece in there somewhere.

  11. 4 out of 5

    LeeTravelGoddess

    GIRL... JENI... *pats nonexistent weave* I'm so conFUSED!!!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Boring, no dialogue and too many characters. Had a hard time keeping them all straight. Didn’t care about any of them.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    A perfect American facade Jeni McFarland holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Houston and was a literary editor at Gulf Coast magazine. Her stories and fiction have already appeared in various places and in various magazines. Her debut novel The House of Deep Water releases in April by G.P. Putnam's Sons. Beth is a black divorced woman with two children who is forced to return to her white father's house in the village of River Bend due to financial difficulties. Her father turns o A perfect American facade Jeni McFarland holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Houston and was a literary editor at Gulf Coast magazine. Her stories and fiction have already appeared in various places and in various magazines. Her debut novel The House of Deep Water releases in April by G.P. Putnam's Sons. Beth is a black divorced woman with two children who is forced to return to her white father's house in the village of River Bend due to financial difficulties. Her father turns out to have his much younger girlfriend Linda pregnant and Beth falls back to an old pattern when she meets the man who married her best friend. The return to the village, where racism and the memories of sexual abuse return to Beth's life, brings her anger to the surface. The House of Deep Water has many different characters that the author briefly introduces the reader to in the first chapter. The reader makes a cinematic ride through the village and passes by all residents who will play a crucial role later in the story. Due to the many characters, it takes a while before you understand exactly who is who, and the relationships between them become more complex throughout the story. Soon, however, most of the puzzle pieces fall into place. “Deborah is well aware of the threats in a town like this. River Bend is full of men who want to take and take. Just last June, that horrible man Gilmer was caught hurting children in his basement. Deborah can’t even imagine the terrible things he did to them – young children, too, some four or five.” Pretty soon a man in the village is arrested for the abuse of minors, from the diary fragments that the reader of Beth reads, we also know that she was one of his victims. However, the arrest and trial remain in the background of the story, and the book centers around all the characters within the village surrounding it. By describing events in the village and the more or less coincidental return of key figures in Beth's life to the village, the author slowly works towards a denouement. It is soon clear to the reader that something big has to happen, with this the interest to continue reading is aroused, but for a long time it remains unclear what exactly this denouement or climax must consist of and it takes a long time. Ultimately, the ending is a lot less spectacular than you might expect, yet The House of Deep Water is an intriguing book. “She should be able to find a happy memory of it – this is the house where she spent her early childhood, the house where they lived when her family was still whole – and yet, even as she strains her mind, all she can come up with are memories of Gilmer Thurber here, in this house, his presence in every corner, filling the house like dark water.” Each character is well worked out by the author and McFarland gives the reader interesting insights into their different problems and psyches. The poignant thing about this story is that each character remains within his own world, communication is not really there, so that everyone lives in their own bubble and, above all, there is more and more misunderstanding in the daily life of the residents of River Bend. Child abuse, discrimination, marital problems, and adultery, McFarland's debut has it all, but what dominates is the appearance of the perfect American life as the big issues keep hiding away into the background. This debut is worth reading and fans of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng will certainly appreciate it. - Many thanks to the publisher for making an ARC available for this review through Edelweiss+

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Lots going on but the books meanders at a slow pace which left me unconcerned and bored. I must admit that it's my mishap not the author's. There are a great many sad characters with very sad lives and I could not connect with any of them. Nothing against the author and I will read future works.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    review tomorrow

  16. 5 out of 5

    Virginia Woolf’s Actual Wife

    I very much enjoyed the writing and the storytelling but damn that was way sadder than I thought it was going to be

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I am not sure why this novel doesn't get higher ratings. I really enjoyed this multi-generational saga that shows the complexities of being in a family, going back to your hometown and trying to grow up despite challenges. This is a novel about strong, complex women and the hardships they endure. It has themes around family, racism, abuse, teen pregnancy, poverty, and isolationism. It's a slow, well-written book that grows on you. I loved the time I spent with it. with gratitude to edelweiss and I am not sure why this novel doesn't get higher ratings. I really enjoyed this multi-generational saga that shows the complexities of being in a family, going back to your hometown and trying to grow up despite challenges. This is a novel about strong, complex women and the hardships they endure. It has themes around family, racism, abuse, teen pregnancy, poverty, and isolationism. It's a slow, well-written book that grows on you. I loved the time I spent with it. with gratitude to edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Dean

    Received this ARC in a Goodreads giveaway. 3.5 stars: good premise but a ton of characters and it got confusing at times. The writing/descriptions didn’t flow for me. “Women, especially those of limited means, must learn to read the signs. A lingering rumble of a familiar engine in the driveway day’s end means her husband is home, that he is held up in his car collecting something, perhaps his temper, before entering the house.” It was a solid read but not my favorite.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Enid Cavallaro

    I am a little unsure what to think of this book. It started nowhere and ended nowhere and not a lot happened in between. The writing was fine, the premise was fine yet still I have a sense of having missed something. The book was peopled by sad characters and none of them any redeeming qualities at all. There were too many points of view, too many people whose lives had or were falling apart and no happy to balance it. As I turned the last page I actually found myself wondering if perhaps a chap I am a little unsure what to think of this book. It started nowhere and ended nowhere and not a lot happened in between. The writing was fine, the premise was fine yet still I have a sense of having missed something. The book was peopled by sad characters and none of them any redeeming qualities at all. There were too many points of view, too many people whose lives had or were falling apart and no happy to balance it. As I turned the last page I actually found myself wondering if perhaps a chapter was missing

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Mijangos

    I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. A novel about a small town and the varios pains felt by its inhabitants. Crimes were committed, children were hurt and abandoned, people healed, and life went on. I loved the book. It is realistic and identifiable.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Halverson

    I had a lot of hope for this book but unfortunately it just didn't work for me. There were so many characters that I had a hard time following the story and keeping everybody straight. It was hard to become invested in any one character and made the book feel really long and it didn't really seem like a lot happened throughout the book. Thanks to Netgalley and Putnam for the e arc

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    The House of Deep Water by Jeni McFarland Published April 12, 2020 / by Littoral Librarian Publication Date April 21, 2020 I was in the mood for a character-driven novel, with strong women working to find out who they are, blah blah blah. Reading that Jeni McFarland’s book The House of Deep Water was reminiscent of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and explored “… trauma, love, loss, and new beginnings found in a most unlikely place: home,” I was super grateful to Penguin Group Putnam/G.P.Putna The House of Deep Water by Jeni McFarland Published April 12, 2020 / by Littoral Librarian Publication Date April 21, 2020 I was in the mood for a character-driven novel, with strong women working to find out who they are, blah blah blah. Reading that Jeni McFarland’s book The House of Deep Water was reminiscent of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and explored “… trauma, love, loss, and new beginnings found in a most unlikely place: home,” I was super grateful to Penguin Group Putnam/G.P.Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley for providing me with a copy in exchange for this honest review. I inferred from the blurb that the book looked at the stories of three women who return to the small southern Michigan town each had left some years ago. I was prepared to look at those characters and follow their stories, but I was NOT prepared to have to prepare a flowchart-style family tree for the dizzying number of characters introduced quickly in the first few chapters. But they were intriguing, and their backstories were interesting, so I kept on. Maybe my brain is full from coronavirus angst, or maybe it’s just that three-plus weeks of sheltering in place has rendered me incapable of following multiple storylines with alternating points of view that also jumped back and forth in time, but I was really struggling with following things. It didn’t help that one of the main characters was known by both Beth and Eliza…but I kept on. One of the main stories focuses on Beth/Eliza, the biracial daughter of Ernest DeWitt. She has returned to River Bend, Michigan, with her two teenaged children, to start over. Eliza used to babysit Linda, another main character, who has left her comfortable live with her husband, Nathan, in Houston, and returned to River Bend. As she drives into town, her car breaks down and she is assisted by Ernest, who quickly moves her in with him and gets her pregnant. When Eliza/Beth and her kids also move in, the house seems damn crowded. Beth quickly picks up where she left off years ago, sleeping with Steve, the town alcoholic bad boy, who is married Linda’s aunt Deborah. Steve is a drunk and a dog who was sleeping with both Deborah and Eliza back before Eliza left town for college, and apparently everyone knew but it was one of those small-town things. I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader who kept thinking, “Beth! You can do so much better!” but of course Beth’s lack of self-worth is key to the story, and its relationship to both race and childhood trauma are slowly revealed. Deborah’s brother Jared lives with their mother Dinah on her farm, along with his kids, at least two of whom were left for him to take care of when his wife Paula walked out some years back. Now that she is ready to marry someone else, Paula comes back to town so she can divorce Jared and get on with her life. Her kids (whose heads must be spinning) are intertwined in multiple ways, and then there is the scandal that breaks when, just as the women are returning to town, the local perv is on trial for crimes against children. The trauma that resulted from those crimes that have been going on for years engulfs several of the main characters in different ways. So we have Beth/Eliza, Paula, and Linda, all back in River Bend, a classic dying Midwestern town. The characters, both those who stayed and those who return, all seem to want everyone to think the best of them, while everyone in town is thinking the worst of everyone else. It’s quite sad. Possibly because I’ve never had children of my own, the motherhood crises and themes didn’t really resonate with me. The inherent racism that affects pretty much every character in the book is well-drawn, as are the struggles to escape being stuck in River Bend. The battle against poverty affects both those who managed to escape as well as those who couldn’t…I found it depressing and thought-provoking, as well as being a bit of a challenge to follow until I drew up my family tree/cheat sheet. I’m glad I stuck with it, and recommend it for book groups, as there is a ton of stuff to discuss. Four stars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shonda Moore

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. REVIEW River Bend, Michigan, a small town full of secrets, lies, lost souls and deeply rooted pain. It’s the place many call home while longing to escape yet return to because it’s all they know, who they are and all they will ever be. Gilmer Thurber’s arrest made national news. It was a scandal big enough for the nation to cover, but too painful for the people of River Bend to face head on. Elizabeth Dewitt, almost intentionally, lost her job in Charlotte, NC forcing her return to her fathers ho REVIEW River Bend, Michigan, a small town full of secrets, lies, lost souls and deeply rooted pain. It’s the place many call home while longing to escape yet return to because it’s all they know, who they are and all they will ever be. Gilmer Thurber’s arrest made national news. It was a scandal big enough for the nation to cover, but too painful for the people of River Bend to face head on. Elizabeth Dewitt, almost intentionally, lost her job in Charlotte, NC forcing her return to her fathers house after years of being away. The return home was dark, gloomy and depressing. For months she hid from herself in that house. Kept herself locked away in her room barely tending to her children’s needs as the little girl in her wrestled with the pain of being victimized by Gilmer Thurber. Being molested as a child made her feel worthless so much so she believed she was trash unworthy of love. The House of Deep Water has many supporting characters with stories of despairing love. But the heart of the story focuses on the life of Elizabeth Dewitt aka Beth bka Liza . The novel is primarily written in third person omniscient point of view with flashbacks of Elizabeth Dewitt in first person. At first the story is hard to follow because there’s so many characters with interlocking relationships. The opening chapter attempts to introduce all the main players, but as the story goes on the writing style becomes smoother and the story gets easier to follow. The book has a character map, which is helpful.  There’s nothing disappointing about the book, but there’s also nothing fascinating. It’s a story about a bunch of hurt people who don’t know how to love. Overall I’d say The House of Deep Water is a solid debut. I’d score the book a three, and would probably read more work from the author in the future.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

    The House of Deep Water is a layered book about a small town in Michigan, where everyone seems to know one another. While only a few characters take center stage as narrators in the book, many characters are highlighted. I often enjoy a book with many overlapping connections that may not come together until the end of the book. But for me, this did not land here. While I expect with a lot of characters, I may need to reference who they are (luckily there is a family tree at the beginning of the The House of Deep Water is a layered book about a small town in Michigan, where everyone seems to know one another. While only a few characters take center stage as narrators in the book, many characters are highlighted. I often enjoy a book with many overlapping connections that may not come together until the end of the book. But for me, this did not land here. While I expect with a lot of characters, I may need to reference who they are (luckily there is a family tree at the beginning of the book) at the beginning, I found myself turning back to the tree over and over again, which I should not have to. I was unable to invest in many of the characters, and found it frustrating at the end when I just did not find much growth in them. As a summary, the book primarily focuses on two characters: Beth, who after divorcing her husband and losing her job cooking at a country club, moves back to her hometown with her two children to move in with her father. Linda, only a few years younger than Beth also moves back to her hometown in Michigan when she two divorces her husband. Not long after moving back she begins a relationship with Beth's father, who is significantly older than Linda. Both Beth and Linda have challenging relationships with their family and close ties in town that get exacerbating when they return.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mallory

    Jeni McFarland dismantles the stereotypes of smalltown living in her debut novel, The House of Deep Water. This book is both expansive and close-knit and is filled with generational divides, racial differences, trauma, sexism, motherhood, grief, and the smalltown experience: the claustrophobia, the judgment, the inability to escape. There are certain sections that are written in italics, and detail the events of Elizabeth DeWitt’s past, from her childhood up to her divorce. These sections are sh Jeni McFarland dismantles the stereotypes of smalltown living in her debut novel, The House of Deep Water. This book is both expansive and close-knit and is filled with generational divides, racial differences, trauma, sexism, motherhood, grief, and the smalltown experience: the claustrophobia, the judgment, the inability to escape. There are certain sections that are written in italics, and detail the events of Elizabeth DeWitt’s past, from her childhood up to her divorce. These sections are short, usually only a page long, and are scattered throughout the book. They seem, however, to be unnecessary, because we still get chapters from Elizabeth’s point of view in the present day where she brings up certain memories from the past. I think these sections would have been stronger if they brought up feelings and emotions that Beth doesn’t already explore in the present. The structure of the book isn’t as strong as the plot or the characters; it jumps from character to character, from past to present, from the third person to the first person, which makes it feel jumbled and hard to follow. This, mixed with the large cast of characters, makes it hard to determine who is speaking, and when.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Abigail Buckles

    I checked this out from the library on a whim, and couldn't put it down. CW: trauma, sexual abuse, child abuse. Not a light read, but I appreciated McFarland's honest and straightforward writing on what are often complicated, painful topics. Although this book's description claims to follow three women, every character feels dynamic and fully-formed. In fact, it becomes impossible to simplify any of the female leads into their good or bad decisions; McFarland leads you into the same uncertainty, I checked this out from the library on a whim, and couldn't put it down. CW: trauma, sexual abuse, child abuse. Not a light read, but I appreciated McFarland's honest and straightforward writing on what are often complicated, painful topics. Although this book's description claims to follow three women, every character feels dynamic and fully-formed. In fact, it becomes impossible to simplify any of the female leads into their good or bad decisions; McFarland leads you into the same uncertainty, frustration, and helplessness her characters feel. I got a similar feeling reading this book as I did reading Denise Giardina's works on Appalachia: both authors masterfully portray the strange combination of power and powerlessness women often experience in rural places, and both authors seem to respect the appeal of small town life without concealing the many difficulties it presents. What is more, I didn't feel like my job as the reader was to "like" the characters—I was a witness to their confused and occasionally self-defeating choices, a witness to the tiny movements made towards change. If you're looking to read more fiction by black writers and can handle morally complicated characters, this is worth adding to your list.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I feel like the point McFarland is trying to make in The House of Deep Water is how complicated families and relationships can be, even if from the outside they look enviable. I feel like she's also trying to point to how things overlooked in childhood can be damaging in adulthood. But so much of this book left me confused. I swear it took me half the book to figure out how all the characters were interconnected to each other. The book alternates between telling the story from the different poin I feel like the point McFarland is trying to make in The House of Deep Water is how complicated families and relationships can be, even if from the outside they look enviable. I feel like she's also trying to point to how things overlooked in childhood can be damaging in adulthood. But so much of this book left me confused. I swear it took me half the book to figure out how all the characters were interconnected to each other. The book alternates between telling the story from the different points of view of characters in the story and Beth/Eliza/Elizabeth DeWitt both in present time and reliving her childhood. It feels like so many of these characters are deeply screwed up and unwilling to grow beyond the borders of their childhood and their town. Even people who move away feel compelled to come back and sink themselves into the muck. Maybe if I felt like one of the adults could have seen more clearly past their problems that they could play an active role in making their life better I would have enjoyed it more, but I just don't feel like any of the characters really succeed at growing themselves as people - just resigning themselves that it's not worth the effort to try.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christine Ramsey

    This book was amazing; very well crafted, thought out, presented. Difficult topics: child sexual abuse, families not paying attention, mothers that leave their families, illicit sexual relationships, broken marriages, backwater towns that are in decline, racial tensions. Wow. The story line is about 3 women who return to their little backwater town after years away, and different lifetimes have passed, and just how hard it is to confront the past that made you who you are today. How hard it is to This book was amazing; very well crafted, thought out, presented. Difficult topics: child sexual abuse, families not paying attention, mothers that leave their families, illicit sexual relationships, broken marriages, backwater towns that are in decline, racial tensions. Wow. The story line is about 3 women who return to their little backwater town after years away, and different lifetimes have passed, and just how hard it is to confront the past that made you who you are today. How hard it is to forgive the past that hurt you, and still might have the power to hurt you again. As a reader, I admired those places in the intertwining stories where they all came together, they made perfect sense, and they were satisfactory. I recognized the depth of perception, and the mastery of the storyteller. This story didn't just get thrown together - it was genuinely crafted - and I admired the skill demonstrated here. Apparently, this is Jeni McFarland's first novel, and this is so hard to believe, that she would turn out something this amazing, worthwhile, and believable on a first try. Well done, and I hope there's more in there, because I want to read your next book, also.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor Boudreau

    After the dissolution of her marriage and the loss of her job, Elizabeth DeWitt is forced to move back to River Bend, Michigan, the small town where she grew up, but — because of the color of her skin — never quite felt she belonged. Beth’s return is an unhappy one, and it leads her to reunite with her first doomed love, a man who dated her and her best friend simultaneously, and, ultimately, married her friend. The novel confronts not just the consequences of being the other woman, but also the After the dissolution of her marriage and the loss of her job, Elizabeth DeWitt is forced to move back to River Bend, Michigan, the small town where she grew up, but — because of the color of her skin — never quite felt she belonged. Beth’s return is an unhappy one, and it leads her to reunite with her first doomed love, a man who dated her and her best friend simultaneously, and, ultimately, married her friend. The novel confronts not just the consequences of being the other woman, but also the consequences of being labeled other in the place you call home — it’s an exploration of how trauma and loneliness, like everything else in America, are not equally distributed. There are actually many, many facets to this book (and I loved them all), but, yeah, as you can see from the above, I definitely got drawn into the doomed love relationship — a TREMENDOUS BOOK, a TERRIFIC read!

  30. 4 out of 5

    F. Renee

    The last time I despised a character this much it was when I attempted to read Queenie. Beth. Eliza. Elizabeth. Whatever her name is, was deplorable af. I did not like her even through all her suffering and BS, I despised her. There were too many characters and I hated some of the lines the author used to discuss race relations. I was stunned to see it was written by a Black woman. I finished it only because our book club meeting is a few days away and I’ve been on a reading streak. I kept readi The last time I despised a character this much it was when I attempted to read Queenie. Beth. Eliza. Elizabeth. Whatever her name is, was deplorable af. I did not like her even through all her suffering and BS, I despised her. There were too many characters and I hated some of the lines the author used to discuss race relations. I was stunned to see it was written by a Black woman. I finished it only because our book club meeting is a few days away and I’ve been on a reading streak. I kept reading hoping for some sort of character development or for the main character to make sense to me but it never happened. I am sorry. I wanted to like it but I did not. Again. I’m sorry. But. No. I just did not.

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