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Water Witches Paperback – April 8, 1997

3.8 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a moving, life-affirming novel suffused with ecological wisdom, a Vermont ski resort's plans for expansion collide with environmentalists seeking to preserve a mountainous wildlife habitat and riverine ecosystem. Narrator Scott Winston, a transplanted New York City lawyer who represents the ski resort, switches allegiance after he and his nine-year-old daughter spot three mountain lions in an area targeted for clearing. Complicating matters is the envy that Scott's pragmatic wife, Laura, a native Vermonter, feels toward her famed sister, Patience Avery, a dowser (water witch) who also opposes the ski resort and whose talent for locating underground springs, missing persons or lost objects with a divining rod figures prominently in the novel's denouement. The struggle between the developers and their opponents culminates in an environmental board hearing that has all the dramatic excitement of a courtroom trial. With wit, insight and mordant irony, Bohjalian (Past the Bleachers) charts Scott's metamorphosis from rationalistic materialist and skeptic to one who believes in higher powers and the interconnectedness of all life. In a refreshing twist, instead of offering a bucolic idyll, the author takes us through a Vermont beset by drought, a declining ski industry, unemployment and endangered ecosystems.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Ecologically devastating oil spills, electromagnetic radiation, vegetarian Not Dogs-all the "green" issues of the day are present and accounted for in this topical offering from the author of the much-praised baseball novel Past the Bleachers (LJ 5/1/92), which is set, fittingly, in the Green Mountain country of Vermont. With the cards so stacked against him, it's a measure of Bohjalian's talent that rather than giving us mere personifications of Big Ideas, he's able to create fully realized characters we can care about-like his protagonist, a small-town lawyer who faces a crisis of conscience when he finds himself caught up in the familiar conflict between Jobs (in this case, the ski industry) and The Environment. The extensive dowsing lore that runs through the narrative like an underground stream is a bonus delight. Recommended for public libraries.
David Sowd, formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib., Canton, Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (April 8, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684826127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684826127
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #684,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Fromal on February 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
Chris Bohjalian's book, Water Witches, is a fascinating study of one Vermont family. Laura and her daughter Miranda are "water witches" - they are able to use rods, and their intuition, to advise people where to place wells so as to have clear, drinkable water in their homes. Laura's sister is also a dowser - however her power extends beyond water, and she is able to find lost items and people.
Scottie is married to Laura. After moving to Vermont, he took the highest-paid job he could find, as a lobbyist for the ski industry. While he has built a name for himself, this job has pitted him against environmental activists. However, Scottie finds himself in a bind when his current employer, Powder Peak, wants to build new trails and tap a depleted river for water to make snow. Scottie, however, becomes a reluctant convert to the environmentalists' point of view when he spies a catamount, an endangered Vermont mountain, where the ski resort was planning on placing the trails. He must wrestle with himself and his commitments to do the right thing.
The ending of the story is incredibly powerful, and winds these two tales together with astonishing grace.
Overall, this book is highly recommended for fans of Bohjalian's other books, including Midwives, and readers who are interested in the often delicate balance between environmental preservation and economic growth.
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I enjoyed this book more for the information then the characters..the author researched the topic relentlessly..very good info. .. My mother is a water witch..and she can find water anywhere and everywhere..My mom really enjoyed the novel..thank you for the great researching of the topic.
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Format: Paperback
I am a huge fan of Bohjalian's "Midwives" and could not wait to read this book. While it is not his best (in my humble opinion) it is certainly worth the time to read it. The sisters' problem with the community is a wonderful statement on the difficulties of being different in today's society. What truelly continues to amaze me is that Bohjalian speaks through a woman's eyes so knowingly, hard to believe it is written by a man.
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I found Water Witches to be a surprisingly engaging story. No over-the-top midwives or larger-than-life heroes here: the tale is populated by a bunch of ordinary people trying to do the right thing as best they can. Even the magic is low-key. Thus, the story isn't really just about the conflict between environment/development -- it's an extended character study of a man who has to make decisions that can't please everyone. Bohjalian propels the narrative along a little unevenly, but that only adds to the small-town, real-life feel of it.
This was a quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
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Format: Paperback
Having just read Robert L. Park's Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, Chris Bohjalian's Water Witches came to my attention. The two books take completely different approaches. Voodoo Science is a non-fiction examination of extraordinary claims from a purely rational viewpoint; Water Witches is a fictional account of humanity's deep need to believe in the mystical. Read together, the two complement one another in a remarkable fashion (although surely Park would cringe to hear me say so), for after all, even if the rational mind ever is able to explain everything, it surely still will not satisfy our desire for the divine.
Divination or dowsing, not just hunting for water but seeking contact with an outer force, is the root of the mystical in Bohjalian's book, which pits this extraordinary force against not the rationality of science but the economic force of the modern businessman. Bohjalian is fair to both sides for the most part but certainly loads things in favor of the supernatural at the end. This I found to be the greatest flaw of the book--the dowser's power was so strong, so consistent and so universally recognized throughout the area that what should have been a matter of faith became instead matter-of-fact, and the vision that came with such difficulty to the main character will seem obvious to most readers well in advance. But the gentle story is attractive and the characters well drawn. The protagonist's journey from rationalist to believer was convincing within the context Bohjalian creates. Robert Park most likely wouldn't enjoy this book, and neither will real estate developers, action fans or seekers of the dark occult arts. But the rest of us are likely to find a lovely insight into what we hope is true.
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I found this book much more "realistic" than "Midwives" I could relate to it! In fact, I was caught between reality and the book while I was reading it on a recent June visit to my daughter's in VT!! I actually kept forgetting that VT was NOT experiencing a drought while I was visiting!! Caught myself turning off the water while brushing my teeth, looking at the Winooski River for low levels, and observing the countryside in general for signs of "drought"!!
Chris Bohjalian is a master story teller in a "kinder and gentler" way!! His beautiful descriptions of the VT countryside, the numerous SMALL towns, and the life these people lead are exactly what I have encountered on my numerous visits to the state! But the really compelling story he tells is of the encroachment of business, homes, development on our beatiful and old New England towns. I live in one of these in CT. We have no beautiful catamounts as in Bohjalian's story, but the deer and bear in our area are being squeezed out by development! This is the case in a lot of New England. I could certainly relate to this story, but even people in inner-cities would certainly hate to see what little is left of our beautiful "country" destroyed! Where would they go on weekends to get OUT of the city? Bravo, Chris, for a beautiful story!!!!
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