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The Drowning House: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 15, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Black’s first novel is an atmospheric exploration of the island of Galveston, Texas, and the intertwined histories of two families who reside there. After the death of her daughter, grief-stricken photographer Clare Porterfield returns home to Galveston to construct an exhibit of historic photographs. Prepared to lose herself in the project, Clare instead finds herself drawn into the complicated relationship her family has with the Carradays. She learns patriarch Will has been having a decades-long affair with her mother, Eleanor, while Clare’s own desire to seek out Will’s son, Patrick, her childhood companion and crush, is thwarted at every turn. Clare is soon absorbed in a century-old mystery as she tries to piece together the fate of Stella Carraday, who supposedly perished in the hurricane that struck the island in 1900. As she uncovers the secret of Stella’s fate, she is forced to confront truths about her own past as well as her grief over her daughter’s death. A slow burn that rewards the reader with several shocking reveals and twists toward the end. --Kristine Huntley


"The Drowning House marks the emergence of an impressive new literary voice. Elizabeth Black's suspenseful inquiry into dark family secrets is enriched by a remarkable succession of images, often minutely observed, that bring characters, setting, and story sharply into focus." —John Berendt, New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"[Black] possesses elegant descriptive powers ... The honky-tonk allure of Glaveson's Strand district, in particular, comes alive in all its touched-up splendor." The New York Times Book Review

"A spellbinding debut novel, a story of secrets, loss and the redemptive power of truth ... Black’s luxurious prose makes Galveston into a dark, fading fairy-tale world, and her descriptions of Clare’s internal strife reveal a keen insight into the human condition that eludes many more seasoned novelists. A page-turning chronicle of grief and memory, The Drowning House is a remarkable blend of human drama and satisfyingly Southern Gothic mystery, propelled by Black’s lyrical, haunting narration." Bookpage

"A fine debut ... Black mythologizes this landscape, evoking its essence and that of its inhabitants, creating a novel that is far more than the sum of its parts." Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Engrossing ... A multigenerational, thrillingly evocative and witty novel ... Black excels at summoning the unique culture of Galveston, its tragic past and scruffy present." The Dallas Morning News

"Black does an excellent job of luring the reader on with hints here and little bits of information there ... An engrossing story of perception and context, with an appealing heroine and a fascinating setting." —Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

"Prepare to be lost in Elizabeth Black's Galveston. Strange, mysterious, and utterly riveting, The Drowning House is a captivating mystery as well as a beautifully realized story about grief that skillfully evokes the heat, humidity, and languid desire that pervade Gulf Coast life." —Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog

"As dark and gleaming as a ruby, Elizabeth Black’s suspenseful debut limns the slippery nature of truth surrounding a shocking tragedy, with language so exquisite you’ll be underlining phrases." —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

"Black, a poet, takes great care to construct each paragraph to reflect the complicated physical and emotional landscape of Clare's hometown ... A novel that encapsulates the convoluted machinations of a powerful family within the larger context of a society that supports its own, no questions asked." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A dark, addictive and compelling tale of Galveston Island. It builds to a stunning climax that keeps you reading compulsively to the end." —Galveston Daily News

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; First Edition edition (January 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385535864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385535861
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #807,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on January 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Drowning House is a novel in which dark secrets are revealed, one after another, like bullets from a machine gun. Unfortunately, it takes too long for the firing to begin, and unlike bullets, the revelations have no impact.

Clare Porterfield is a successful photographer who grew up in Galveston, where she returns after an absence of many years to select archived photographs for an exhibition. She has grown apart from her husband Michael, probably because she says things to him like "I want to hear your ideas but I don't want advice," as if the poor guy is supposed to know whether his suggestion of an idea will be construed as advice. Clare also makes condescending remarks about Michael's inability to understand her photography and belittles his "conventional" taste. Their marriage is rocky in part because Clare blames herself for their daughter's death, although Michael obviously does not. Clare is similarly consumed with grievances about her deceased father and unloving mother. She's constantly picking at the scabs of her past, refusing to let them heal.

The novel takes its title from an apocryphal story about the house adjacent to Clare's childhood home -- identified in Galveston guide books as the Carraday House -- in which a seventeen-year-old girl is said to have drowned during a hurricane in 1900. When Clare was still living at home, she spent much of her time visiting Patrick Carraday, "the brother I never had, then later, something more." Then, when she was fourteen, she and Patrick shared a dark moment, the details of which are slowly revealed as the story progresses. After that event, Clare is sent to the Ohio to live with her grandmother and Patrick goes to Europe.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John W. Graham VINE VOICE on May 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read The Drowning House while I was on business travel. Set in Galveston, Texas, the story revolves around photographer Clare Porterfield and her return to Galveston following a family tragedy. As the book unfolds, the reader learns more about her tragedy through Clare's reunion with her family and friends and her photographic exhibition assignment.

During this process, Clare reexamines her past and researches her family's history. She learns about her family's connection to the Carraday family and we enter into a dark mystery deeply intertwined with the local peculiarities and history of Galveston.

I haven't been to Galveston but I found the setting vibrant and rich, even alive at times. Perhaps it could be best described as atmospheric with a distinct aura. When you strip away the setting though, the characters seemed annoying at best and I did not develop an affinity for any of them, particularly because they tended to be so dysfunctional. The story had its charm and mystery but it failed to completely pull me in. However, I did consider this a pleasant read and the denouement was satisfying. I would recommend this book, especially if you are interested in Galveston and its history.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Granfors TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Elizabeth Black's debut novel, "The Drowning House," is set in Galveston, Texas, in the present day with memories of the past. The protagonist, Clare, has come home to The Island after many years away. She's been asked to work on some archival photographs since she is a renowned photographer. She is happy to flee the debris of her marriage, which fell apart in the aftermath of a terrible accident.

Once in Galveston, Clare finds her mother, Eleanor, the same as always: prim, busy, quick to criticize. Clare has always been the invisible child, the one who watches. Even as an adult, she continues her reclusive habits, trying to find a way out of her grief and to locate her former partner in childhood pranks, Patrick.

Black captures the aura of Galveston, from its heyday as a resort city through the hurricane of 1900 and the rebuilding after it. All of the details about the city help to focus Clare on the storm inside of her, the reasons for her unhappiness with life as she knows it. She uncovers layer after layer of secrets about the people she thought she knew.

The ending is a punch after the reader has been lulled into The Island's way of life and The Islanders' way of looking at things. The minor characters, Faline and Otis, Harriet, Ty, everyone contributes something meaningful to the mystery and the end result.

The denouement is satisfying as well as a little mysterious. In this first novel, Elizabeth Black shows the influence of her poetry as well as her ability to develop character and plot. A+
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Shana VINE VOICE on December 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The other reviewers have covered the plot, so I won't go too much into that. I'll just say that main character, Clare Porterfield, has had a very strange childhood. This book has such gorgeous descriptive writing, that it just drew me in. The author Elizabeth Black writes with such passionate feelings. The abuse and dysfunction that the main character Clare grew up with, you as the reader, can see in vivid detail as you read her thoughts and emotions. It touched me personally as I am also a child abuse survivor who was taught like Clare that everything was somehow normal.

Most of the prose is written from Clare Porterfield's point-of-view from her internal dialogue and thoughts set in the present day and also in her childhood. Clare has been taught that her childhood was normal and though she dreads going back to her childhood home, something keeps beckoning her there. Then, when she starts to uncover more facts about the supposed death of Stella Carraday and even more facts about the cursed Carraday family in general she feels as if she might not ever leave. In this story not everyone or everything is as appears on the outside, as is the same in real life. As in the mind of a child not everything Clare remembers is exact.

There were several lines in this book that I personally connected with and I underlined due to their beauty or meaning. There are many layers of complexity in this story and the ending is bittersweet and not quite like you'd expect- a bit like life.

I'm sure that this story will not be everyone's cup of tea, but, if you pick it up and relate to the story you won't be disappointed. It's not an edge of your seat murder mystery; it's more of a psychological mystery with character studies. Elizabeth Black's writing style reminds me a bit of Emily Arsenault's writing, in the way that you get to really know personally your main characters.

Overall, a solid 4.5 stars, I'd recommend it.
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