The Seduction of Water
Iris Greenfeder, ABD (All But Dissertation) has just turned forty, lives in Manhattan, and works three teaching jobs to support herself. Recently she’s felt that the “buts” are taking over her life: all but published, all but a professor, all but married (to Jack, her boyfriend of ten years). Yet the sudden impulse to write a story about her mother leads to a shot at literary success. The piece recounts an eerie Irish fairy tale her mother used to tell her at bedtime–and nestled inside is the sad story of her mother’s death…
More than fifty years ago, Iris’s mother, Katherine Morrissey, arrived at the Catskills’ grand Hotel Equinox penniless, with almost no belongings. Kay was hired as a maid but refused to speak of her past or her family. One year later, she married Ben Greenfeder, the hotel’s manager. During the hotel’s off-season, Kay wrote the first two fantasy novels of a planned trilogy. There never was a third book. When Iris was nine, her mother left one day for a writer’s conference–and never came back. Kay died that very night in a hotel fire on Coney Island, registered as another man’s wife.
Now Hedda Wolfe, Kay’s former literary agent, has a proposal: If Iris will return to the Hotel Equinox where she grew up, research her mother’s life, and find the third and final manuscript that Hedda is convinced exists, then she can guarantee Iris a huge advance to write her mother’s biography.
Transfixed by the notion of a third book, Iris believes that it will hold clues to the mysteries of Kay’s life–and death. But as she begins to peer into the thicket of her mother’s hidden world, stinging revelations leave Iris with new questions. When a deadly “accident” befalls the one man who could shed some light on Kay, it becomes clear that Iris is not alone in her deep interest in her mother’s past–or in her search for a lost manuscript that might hold more secrets than she ever expected.
Humming with tension, awash in atmosphere, and rich in plot, The Seduction of Water is a remarkable and unique combination of lyrical traditions and thrilling suspense–marking Carol Goodman as a modern master of gripping fiction.
Carol Goodman’s admirable second novel, The Seduction of Water, has much in common with her bestselling debut, The Lake of Dead Languages. Both feature heroines who are at crossroads in their lives and who choose to move backward and inward. In the first novel, the main character returns to teach at the woodsy private school where she had been a scholarship student, triggering the horrible repetition of the violence that had marred her senior year. In The Seduction of Water, the heroine returns to the woodsy hotel in the Catskills where her parents had worked, in the hope of uncovering her dead mother’s secrets. Somehow, the book doesn’t feel like a reiteration of the earlier novel, perhaps because the tone throughout is lighter and more sure.
Iris Greenfeder is a 36-year-old barely published New York writer and teacher whose long-term boyfriend, an artist, sees her schedule as strict and therefore will not spend the night, because he likes to get up and paint first thing every morning. When one of Iris’s stories about her mother is picked up by a small literary journal with a well-connected editor, things start to happen for her. She becomes convinced that a summer out of the city, working as manager of the old hotel, will give her the perfect setting in which to pen a memoir of her writer mother, as well as an opportunity to look for the rumored manuscript of her mother’s final book. But there are those who are just as determined to keep the dead woman’s secrets in the grave. Only mildly suspenseful, and relying too much on coincidence, The Seduction of Water isn’t the page-turner that Goodman’s debut was, but patient readers may find it a richer and more satisfying novel overall. —Regina Marler