‘A strikingly-original coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of 1980s Michigan.‘
– The Polite Act of Drowning
[ About The Polite Act of Drowning ]
Michigan, 1985. The drowning of a teenage girl causes ripples in the small town of Kettle Lake, though for most the waters settle quickly. For sixteen-year-old Joanne Kennedy, however, the tragedy dredges up untold secrets and causes her mother to drift farther from reality and her family.
When troubled newcomer Lucinda arrives in town, she offers Joanne a chance of real friendship, and together the teenagers push against the boundaries of family, self-image, and their sexuality during the tension of a long, stifling summer. But the undercurrents of past harms continuously threaten to drag Joanne and those around her under…
[ My Review ]
The Polite Act of Drowning by Charleen Hurtubise published April 6th with Eriu and is described as ‘a coming-of-age story with themes of family trauma, mental health and emerging sexuality set against the backdrop of 1980s Michigan.’
Although living in Dublin for more than twenty years, Charleen Hurtubise is originally from Michigan. Her ability to authentically conjure up the landscape surrounding the small town of Kettle Lake adds a very strong sense of place to this novel. The sweltering summer heat shimmers off the pages as sixteen-year-old Joanne Kennedy tries to navigate through the teenage years. Joanne is constantly comparing herself to others. She feels awkward and less developed than other girls her age, dwelling a lot on her insecurities and her inability to fit in.
At a packed beach one day, Joanne watches the city girls flirting with some boys before she heads home with her aunt, cousins and siblings. She had been aware of one of the city girls back-floating out in the water but paid no heed at the time. It was only later, when the news arrived of a drowning that Joanne realises it is the girl that she saw. Riddled with guilt, she repeatedly asks herself if she missed something. Could she have saved the poor girl? Was she the last person to see her before she got caught up in a riptide & drowned?
The Kennedy family live a life of walking on eggshells with their mother, Rosemary, who is a sensitive soul. Joanne accepted her mother’s behaviour early in life but now, as she gets nearer to adulthood, she is searching for answers. What event in her mother’s past triggered this strange behaviour and why do all the adults tip-toe around her?
Frustrated and despondent with her homelife, and in her inability to develop any close friendships, Joanne meets Lucinda, the troubled foster-child of a close neighbour. Joanne sees a kindred spirit in Lucinda and, although a damaged teenager with a dubious past, she is the first person to give Joanne the attention she craves. Joanne rebels in the company of Lucinda and the excitement that follows leads to her exploring her sexuality and her own sense of self.
The Polite Act of Drowning provokes the reader into considering the different types of drowning that exist in both the physical and metaphysical sense. Most of the characters in this claustrophobic tale are all struggling to stay afloat in life. In this small lakeside town, there can be few secrets, with any lapse of judgement forever imprinted in the memories of all the community.
The Polite Act of Drowning slowly develops into an all-encompassing story of The Kennedy family and the close-knit community of Kettle Lake over one hot, sultry summer. A very evocative and melancholy tale, Charleen Hurtubise has written a layered story that disconcerts and elicits many emotions. An intense debut highlighting many difficult themes, The Polite Act of Drowning comes alive with strong descriptions and wonderful characters, all beautifully portrayed with a sensitive hand.
Perfect for any reader who enjoyed The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller and The Crawdad Sings by Delia Owens.
“I worked on this novel during a time when it was impossible to make the journey home to familiar landscapes. Creating the town of Kettle Lake became a way to visit the quietness of a marsh, the particular smell of a forest walk, the beauty along the shoreline of any of the Great Lakes. I hope this novel will allow readers to visit these places I have loved.“
– Charleen Hurtubise
[ Bio ]
Charleen Hurtubise has lived in Dublin, Ireland for over 25 years, having moved from Michigan, USA. She is a teacher and artist as well as a writer, and her short fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in various publications.
She holds an MFA Creative Writing from University College Dublin (UCD)
Website ~ https://www.charleenhurtubise.com/
Twitter ~ @CharliSolo