A first novel in which a drowned man's death transforms the life of the man who tried to save him
Fishing alone on a Tennessee lake, Miller Sharp sees a young man dive into the water and not come up. Two tense minutes pass. Then Miller dives in to rescue him.
Beware: A drowning victim will likely sink a would-be savior. All first responders and lifeguards have heard this warning.
Underwater, he finds himself in a life-and-death struggle to keep from drowning as Jimmy Duane Goodfriend, the diver and victim, begins to climb Miller's body in a desperate attempt to gain the surface. He pulls Miller further down. To free himself, Miller bites the drowning man's hand and rises to the air.
Up above and breathing again, he waits a beat, convinces himself to take another plunge, then goes back down to find Jimmy Duane.
But Jimmy Duane is lifeless. After dragging him to the dock, Miller must tell the victim's family that Jimmy Duane is dead.
In the rest of its pages the novel becomes eerie, cinematic, and dark. Convinced that he has caused the death of the man he attempted to save, Miller spirals into a personal crisis so frightening that it threatens his hold on his marriage, family, job, and soul.
In Water Dreams, a first novel by Jeanne McDonald, this death by drowning is a thematic chord that resounds in the suffocating aftermath. Miller is haunted by the realities of the peril of lifesaving. In his growing obsession to protect the dead man's widow, he becomes her lover, and his comfortably white, upper-middle-class existence founders as he is immersed in Jimmy Duane's "redneck" culture and low-class lifestyle.
Miller's fall and potential redemption form the crux of Water Dreams. But it is McDonald's unstinting hard edge, her precise characterizations, and her potent atmospheric detail that set the novel apart.
Jeanne McDonald is the co-author of The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith and Growing Up Southern: How the South Shapes Its Writers. Her work has appeared in River City Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, and the Knoxville News-Sentinel. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.