"Something in the Water" by Catherine Steadman
Unlike so many little girls, I never really dreamed of my wedding day.
Sure, I had a plastic wedding cake, complete with detachable frosting, but it laid largely unplayed with. Until, that is, my freshman year Great Expectations hate-party where it, covered with fake cobwebs, acted as Miss Havisham’s long-abandoned wedding day sweet.
But, despite this lack of perennial occupation with matrimony, I somehow ended up marrying young, graduating college with both my teaching license and my MRS degree.
I was 23 when I walked down the aisle - in retrospect, a total fucking tyke.
With me, a new teacher at an urban charter school where the demands were high and the pay low, and my fiance still finishing his last year of college, money was definitely in short supply. In fact, were it not for nuptial-funding cash infusions from my mom, the wedding would have been quite paltry.
Though the protagonist in this wave-making Catherine Steadman novel may share my first name, Erin, her pre-wedding experience is starkly different from my own.
Despite the fact that she's not flush with cash herself - she's a fledgling documentary filmmaker who is in the process of captaining her first solo project - the man she's marrying has a relatively vast pool of cash, which is regularly fed and effortlessly replenished by his high-paying job in the finance industry.
Knowing that they can afford it, and that they’ll only get married once — you know, hopefully —
Mark and Erin plan a lavish wedding and arrange a 3-week luxury honeymoon in Bora Bora where they will get tans, drink too much and make love at least three times a day.
But — because this is a thriller and things always go wrong in thrillers — Mark ends up losing his job several months before the wedding.
Responsibly, they pare down their wedding plans in an attempt to make Mark’s once-seemingly-extensive savings last a little longer. These efforts are particularly important given they have no assurances he will acquire gainful employment any time in the near future.
Though they don’t cancel their trip to Bora Bora, they do find it significantly less relaxing than they had previously thought it would be. How, after all, can you truly enjoy this should-be-leisurely escape with a foreboding black cloud hanging over your heads?
Despite the difficulty, they give it the old college try.
As they are trying to ignore the understandable upset they are feeling and have fun in this tropical paradise, they move forward with long-ago-established plans to scuba dive. This activity in particular is one for which Erin wasn’t particularly excited, as she’s previously had a negative experience. Committed to her husband and his happiness, though, she vows to try.
And it seems to be going well. She’s overcoming her fear and managing to at least marginally enjoy this pastime — which I, personally, wouldn’t enjoy… because, if it doesn’t involve a drink in one hand and a book in the other, I, as rule, don’t enjoy it. #JustSaying
Anyways, with Erin’s proficiency growing, they decide to head out solo and take a boat to a popular shipwreck.
All goes well… until the trip back from the dive-site, when they happen upon an eerie sight that suggests that something terrible has occurred. And it’s when they stop to inspect the disturbed waters that they find it.
A locked black bag, the contents of which could change their lives forever.
Though the discovery of this floating bag — and the concern over what its contents may be — is the thing that’s really intended to capture readers’ attentions and propel them forward in the plot, I was hooked much earlier.
The prose itself was smooth and delightful — something for which I am a complete sucker.
And the plot was well paced — which was particularly impressive given that it was entirely linear, with no reliance on the flashback and flashforward technique that has almost become a cliche at this point.
For the first, say, two-thirds of this book, I was pretty certain it was going to be a 5 cocktail read for me — and it’s been a while since I’ve had one of those, so I was excited to say the least.
But, alas, the hunt for that next immensely satisfying read will have to continue.
As I read on I, much to my chagrin, stumbled upon some things that hampered my enjoyment of the book.
Generally, when I read a novel, the depth of my esteem for the characters continues to grow. I become attached to them. Invested in them. Worried about them.
But that didn’t happen here.
Unfortunately, when reading Something in the Water, my experience was quite the reverse.
The better I got to know Erin as a character, the louder the alarm bells sounded. Alas, there was something about the character of Erin that just didn’t quite ring true.
Which, for me, really sucked because I fucking wanted to love this bitch — Even though reading a book featuring a protagonist with whom you share a first name can at times be... jarring.
Well, Jesus… that escalated quickly.
My issue with Erin was that, at times, she would be cautious, almost to a fault, agonizing over what should be easy decisions. At other times, she would take significant risks without seeming to give any real thought to the potential ramifications. And, what’s more, there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which version of Erin you would get in any given situation.
This disparity in her actions and unpredictability of her character, made her difficult to read and exceptionally hard to form a real attachment to.
But, even though the thoughts and actions of this character were a bit psychitzophrenic, this was only a minor issue that ever-so-slightly tinged me enjoyment of the book.
A much larger issue, that more crucially influenced my overall level of esteem for this book, was the ending.
*Seriously. I’m going to discuss the ending. I’m not joking. This is a spoiler*
As the book draws to a close we find out that Mark hasn’t been entirely forthcoming with his new bride.
Though he’s pretended to be her partner in all of this, he’s really been working with his own self-interest in mind — fucking typical man.
Here’s the thing about the ending as a whole, though… I didn’t really get it.
Maybe I'm a bit slow on the uptake...or maybe I just had one to many glasses of wine while reading… but, either way, I just don’t feel like I fully got it.
Or, if I did get it, it was just really unsatisfying.
Don’t get me wrong, I get the meat and potatoes of what happened. I understand the denotation. I just don’t get the connotations. I don’t get what the author was, I presume, trying to imply.
I mean, sure. I could believe that Mark was in someway complicit in their seemingly random winfall.
In fact, I had been working through plausible potential outcomes in that vein pretty much the entire time that I read. From the moment they found the black bag, bobbing in the water, I was relatively certain that it was going to turn out to be more than a by-chance discovery.
I was sure that, when I got to the end, there would be some amazing twist. All of the seemingly unconnected events would suddenly be connected, Crazy Stupid Love-style - but without the oddly fuckable Steve Carell, or the shirtless Ryan Gosling...unfortunately. And, what made me even more excited, was that I hadn’t figured out how it was all going to happen. Which must mean that it’s going to be so original… so amazing… that it’s unpredictable, even to the most avid of armchair detectives. But… it wasn’t.
For me, that "aha moment" never occurred.
The level of dissatisfaction I felt upon finishing the book was substantial, palpable and lasting. I screamed into the heavens, “Why, literary Gods, have you forsaken me!?!" — Okay... More like I muttered grumpily, sitting alone on my back porch, "Um, that's really fucking it?!?"
I mean, why did Mark ever get with Erin if he didn't really love her? — as if someone named Erin could be anything but supremely lovable, SMH.
It's not like she was rich.
It's not like he knew they were going to find the bag.
Or did he?
Did he orchestrate this whole thing?
And, if so, how?
Or maybe he really did love her at one point in time.
But now he… doesn’t?
Because they found the bag?
Even thinking about it now, it’s giving me a headache. And I’m sober AF.
There were just too many unanswered questions.
And I'm a former educator. Unanswered questions utterly piss me off.
When in doubt, pick C. But don't leave it unanswered.
And then, to make matters worse, in the final pages some new shit comes up which, while not coming entirely out of the blue, certainly did nothing to answer the questions that lingered in my mind — and, actually, caused some new ones to form.
Honestly, I labored over the assignment of a cocktail rating to this book.
On one hand, I really fucking like it. Like, I wanted to be reading it. And, when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it.
But, on the other, the ending was...just...so unsatisfying, really.
Despite how underwhelmed I was by the ending of this novel, however, I simply have to give it 4 out of 5 cocktails.
The something I found in this novel was an enigmatic charm that, despite its faults, makes it difficult not to love.
I am very geeked out over my next read. Want to see what it is — you know, so you can join me in my geeking-out because geeking is, we all know, a team sport — ? Follow me, here.
Do you have any literary namesakes? And, if so, are you anything like your moniker-doppelganger? Tell me about it in the comments, below.