By Ben Beagle For Daily News | Posted: Saturday, August 2, 2014
Yannick Murphy didn’t set out to write a mystery when she began her latest novel, “This is the Water,” a suspenseful story about a serial killer stalking a high school girls swim team in a quiet New England town.
“I saw it as more of a journey that Annie was on where she needed to figure out things for herself, and suddenly that journey gets even more complicated, the stakes become raised and her world becomes dangerous,” said Murphy, the featured author for the 2012 “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
Annie is a swim-mom to two girls with seemingly few fears. “This is the Water” is, at times, told from the point of view of Annie, who wonders why her husband hasn’t kissed her in ages and why she can’t get over the loss of her brother who killed himself a few years earlier. And Annie is also flirting with Paul, who is married to her friend, Chris.
Annie’s world changes when a girl on the team is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop – the same rest stop where Paul had made a gruesome discovery years ago.
The murder finds the morally-flawed parents adrift and forced to make choices about where their loyalties lie as events unfold.
“This is the Water” (Harper Perennial, 352 pages, trade paperback) released this week, has garnered strong reviews. The novel was given starred reviews from Publishers Weekly – which called it “obscenely suspenseful” – and Booklist. It was also chosen by The Wall Street Journal as one of it book picks for the week, and is to be highlighted next month as an “Indie Next Pick” for August by IndieBound, a program of the American Booksellers Association.
Murphy, whose Tale title “The Call” was written as a series of veterinary logs, continues her experimental ways in “This is the Water.” The new novel is darker and finds Murphy playing with narrative perspective as she writes in the second-person and uses a continual “this is” structure that Publishers Weekly says “takes some getting used to, but that works thanks to the fact that the author breaks up the book into 48 short chapters.”
“In Murphy’s hands, the structure becomes almost hypnotic – and when the story hits full speed in the final quarter, the suspense becomes almost excruciating,” Publishers Weekly wrote.
Murphy said the second-person perspective “came naturally to Annie’s character.”
“Annie has to deal with a lot of different circumstances affecting her emotions throughout the book, and her stating what she sees using the second person is a way for her to stand back from these upheavals,” Murphy said. “It’s a way for her to cope, as if all her troubles were directly happening to her.”
Readers are limited to Annie’s perspective, and at times know more than Annie, such as the identity of the serial killer. “Therefore the book’s real tension centers of which of the characters will uncover the killer first, making this inverted murder mystery a ‘whogotit’ rather than a whodunit,” wrote Publishers Weekly.
Booklist called “This is the Water” a “propulsive, psychologically lush, witty and unpredictable novel.”
“Murphy’s evocation of feverish competition, stressed marriages, and the shocking banality of a serial killer’s inner life coalesce in a novel of acute observation, penetrating imagination, and rare agility that is capped by a resounding denouement,” the review said.
Kirkus Reviews said Murphy’s latest is “A different sort of murder yarn that boasts twists in both the style and the plot.”
Characters drove the story for Murphy.
“I became involved with the character” of Annie, Murphy said. “I wondered what Annie would do when the serial killer in the novel came into close contact with the swim team her daughters are on. I wondered what decisions she’s make. I wondered to what lengths she would go to in order to protect her family.”
Each of the characters brought new perspectives to the story for Murphy. The hardest to write, Murphy said, was the character named Dinah who doesn’t like Annie and is also having trouble with her weight, her marriage and is a stickler for obeying rules.
“I didn’t want her to be a cookie cutter typical character who throws a wrench into Annie’s life. I wanted her to have multiple dimensions, because I don’t think real people who have problems are people who behave terribly all the time,” Murphy said. “For this reason, I also showed things from Dinah’s point of view, so a reader could understand what she was feeling. By being given a glimpse of these aspects of her, we form a more realistic picture of her.”
In March, author Kim Church writing for the Huffington Post, called Yannick Murphy’s novel “The Call” one of 11 underappreciated literary masterpieces.
The book, the 2012 selection for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project, is a thin, spare novel written as a series of veterinary logs that explores a family’s struggle to maintain stability after its eldest son is seriously injured in a hunting accident.
“There are books for which my love is too deep and abiding to put into words. This is one,” wrote Church, herself the author of “Byrd” (Dzanc Books, 2014).
Church said “The Call” was “an original and profoundly moving story of family, animals, community, grief, forgiveness and spaceships.”
The list included “The Brothers K” by David James Duncan, “The Diviners” by Margaret Laurence, “The Book of Small,” a memoir of early childhood by Emily Carr written in 1942; “The Pink Institution” by Selah Saterstrom and “The Five Thousand and One Nights” by Book Prize-winning author Penelope Lively.
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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation