Review by: Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay

May 2003

The Seduction of Water
 by Carol Goodman
ISBN: 0345450906

Iris Greenfeder has just turned 40 and is consumed by the “all-buts” that describe her life:  all but dissertation, all but professor (teaching as an adjunct at three different institutions, including a correctional facility), and all but married (in a ten-year long rather detached relationship with an artist named Jack).

Part of her problem with her dissertation is that she is too close to the subject matter: her mother.  Iris’ mother, Katherine Morrissey, arrived at a hotel in the Catskills with one suitcase, never spoke of her family or background, married the hotel manager within a year, and then in addition to helping manage the hotel, wrote two science fiction/fantasy novels about a world called Tirra Glynn.  When Iris was nine years old, her mother went to New York for a writers’ conference but did not return home.  She died in a hotel fire, but not at the conference hotel, registered under another name.

Throughout her life, Iris has been obsessed with the selkie tale her mother always told her as a bedtime story, and one day, she assigns her students to retell a fairy tale or folk story.  This prompts her to finish her own essay which retells the selkie story and also commemorates her mother.  When the piece, “The Selkie’s Daughter,” unexpectedly gains literary notice, Iris receives backing to embark upon a project to write a full-length memoir about her mother.  This sets her on a journey to discover Katherine’s background and to attempt to locate the final novel, the missing piece of the Tirra Glynn trilogy.

A fascinating cast of characters follows Iris to the Catskills for the summer, where she attempts to find the manuscript and learns a great deal about her mother and herself.  She also uncovers a number of mysteries surrounding her mother’s life and death, which ultimately places her own life in grave danger.

Those who enjoy mysteries and thrillers will certainly appreciate this well-written suspenseful novel, but those who normally avoid that genre should not shy away from Goodman’s works.  Like her first novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, The Seduction of Water certainly has a mystery element, but the novel deals with a number of issues and does not rely on formulaic elements often found in traditional mystery genres.   Regardless of genre, Goodman’s writing is a joy to read, with flashes of humor and insight, finely drawn suspense, strong characters, and evocative settings. 

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