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
From Publishers Weekly
An aspiring writer delves into the long-buried mystery of her novelist mother's death in this silky-smooth novel by the author of The Lake of Dead Languages. Water, from Iris Greenfeder's perspective, is the Hudson River. She has a view of it from her five-story walkup in New York City's westernmost Greenwich Village, and it shimmers in the distance from the Equinox, the Catskills hotel where Iris grew up. Her father, Ben, was the manager at the Equinox; her mother, Kay, a former maid, wrote two fantastical novels there. Driving the plot is the not-so-simple question: did Kay write a third novel, and is it hidden at the Equinox? Back at the hotel for the summer, Iris plans to write the story of her mother's life and search for the missing manuscript. As she attempts to solve the mystery, she is abetted and thwarted by a large cast of characters, including her mother's famous literary agent, the mega-millionaire owner of a hotel chain, the daughter of a famous suicidal poet, an all-knowing gardener and the delicious Aidan Barry, whom Iris meets while he's still in prison. The novel's first-person, present-tense narrative fosters intimacy, though it somewhat undercuts suspense. More effective is the use Goodman makes of the Irish myth of the selkie-half-seal, half-woman-as told by Iris's mother. Mystery, folklore, a thoroughly modern romance, a strong sense of place and a winning combination of erudition and accessibility make this second novel a treat.
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