Something in the Water
by Catherine Steadman
Let’s talk bookclubs.
In the past few years, they have become all the rage in a multitude of communities. Whether it’s an excuse to get out of the house once a month and leave the kids and husband to fend for themselves (with lots of heat-em-up chicken nuggets to help lubricate the way) or it’s an actual effort to try and boost literary knowledge and actual pages read, a huge amount of bookish folk are flocking to their meetings month after month and discussing which particular novel they loved (or hated).
I am part of a bookclub (cleverly titled Between the Covers) and it works beautifully. I have several girlfriends that I met online years ago (through a … well, sort of a bookclub … a book love? Basically we all met because of Outlander) who are awesome and supportive ladies that also happen to avid readers. We are all very close in the relationship sense but not so much logistically. Once a month someone picks a book (the choosing person is rotated) and at the end of the month we meet up via Skype and spend five minutes talking about the book and an additional fifty-five minutes talking about wine, husbands, children, jewelry, general tomfoolery and witchy-bitchery – in general, just having a good time. It’s something I really look forward to, and I absolutely adore the fact that each woman brings her own preferences to the table when choosing the book of the month. We have a bit of an unspoken rule that no book is off limits, and that means zero pressure when it’s your month to choose. Each and every one of us enjoys reading something different and it pushes me outside my comfort zone of contemporary romance and young adult fantasy. I am grateful for these ladies, more than they probably know. My bookclub works. It is its own kind of spellbinding magic.
I tried to join a secondary, local bookclub last year. And when I say local, I mean literally just around the corner from me. The ladies have a FaceBook group and they choose the books (again, the member choosing is rotated monthly but instead of out of five ladies like in Between the Covers, it’s rotated between about 100 women) and the titles are varied. But every month when the time to meet up face-to-face for interaction and book discussion came around, I froze. These ladies wanted to meet in actual tea rooms and discuss novels over cucumber sandwiches and I have a hard time putting on a bra every day if I don’t have to. I think that over the years I’ve really realized that I am not so good in the face to face sense, and it’s totally on me. I’ve learned to accept that I have social anxiety. I spent much of my 20’s and 30’s attempting to battle it by forcing myself to become more social but that, in turn, gave me … you guessed it – more anxiety.
People generally take to me when I’m in a group. I will make fun of myself long before anyone else does; I’ve taken the term “self-deprecation” to an almost genius level. I’m genuinely kind, I love building people up and giving well-deserved compliments and I am great at engaging strangers in conversation … anything to keep the conversation away from myself. There is something fundamentally etched into my DNA that constantly tells me that I’m not good enough, will never be good enough, and should probably just never even try. As a result, I’d rather spend my time with fictional characters, or the select few that I’ve allowed in to my itty bitty real-life circle.
It’s something I know I should work on more, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to accept that I really just enjoy my little bubble. Now at 37 years of age, I’m beginning to wonder … should I even worry about being social? Is it worth it to have a night out here and there with virtual strangers, when I am in a constant state of feeling uncomfortable and riddled with nerves? I have a best friend (local and yes, I know her in-real-life … she’s been my friend for 25 years) and we get together often with our families or just alone. It’s really all I have time for with three kids at three different stages of life. If an out-of-state friend comes to town, I can make time for that but … I mean, do I really need to be surrounded by tons of people, especially when it just tends to exhaust me and make me nervous?
Needless to say, I exited stage left … with the other book club.
Powerhouse Reese Witherspoon jumped on the bookclub bandwagon a while ago and started her own. It’s an online thing run by her media company Hello Sunshine, and each month it features a new book that can be discussed virtually over Instagram, Facebook, Twitter … social media outlets, basically. Quite a few books that I’ve already read and enjoyed have been on her list, and I’ve been introduced to some new ones that I’d never heard of before. I haven’t officially joined or anything, but as a Bookstagrammer and a book blogger, I follow along just so that I’m educated on what the new “IT book” is.
I say “It Book” because … well, I may be egregiously naive but it is still so bizarre to me just how much influence celebrities have on their followers. I read Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year In Havana months before it showed up on Reese’s bookclub radar and couldn’t stop raving about it to everyone I could talk to. It was an okay seller, but I could never find it in bookstores. But once Reese gave her seal of approval, it was splashed everywhere and instantly hopped its way onto the bestseller’s list. Not that I’m knocking Reese’s power to do good (because I think she’s awesome) it’s just … wow. Her opinion carries a lot of weight with readers. And you know what they say, right? With great power comes great responsibility.
I’m a NetGalley member and was sent Something in the Water for a read and review, via the publisher. A few months after I read it, the book ended up on Reese’s bookclub as her pick of the month and readers started going crazy over it.
I truly could not understand it. This book … well, it wasn’t that good. It was one of those stories that has a huge and gripping push of intrigue at the beginning but then fizzles out quickly, leaving it a book that’s hard to finish. It makes me wonder what pushes certain bookclubs to choose certain books – especially the prominent and celebrity book clubs. Is it as authentic a choice as readers deserve? Is it organically driven, or is it all about who knows who? Does Reese Witherspoon even read these books? Or does she read the synopsis her assistant wrote up for her, show up to the photoshoot and after a fair amount of styling, just poses beautifully for the photo with the book in her hand?
I guess we’ll never know. So, on to the review.
To the outside world, Erin and Mark have it all.
She’s a successful entrepreneurial filmmaker – one intent upon showcasing real life issues and doing it in a thought-provoking and intense fashion. He’s an investment banker, blindingly handsome each morning as he sets off for the office in a sharply cut suit. As the beautiful matched-set board a plane and head off for a honeymoon staged in the shamelessly romantic huts of Bora Bora, they both are etched deeply with that telltale newleywed glow.
But if someone scratched their flawless facade ever so slightly and saw right beneath the surface, they’d see the tarnish hiding there. The once-in-a-lifetime (and obscenely expensive, albeit prestigious) honeymoon was one set to be much longer … but the fact that Mark found himself suddenly without employment forced him to convince Erin to cut the trip nearly in half. Their dream wedding, the one they’d been planning for months down to the last gratuitous detail? Well, it was nipped and tucked within an inch of its monetary life, all so they could continue to pay the mortgage on their flat in the affluent part of the city. The lack of funds is putting a strain on the relationship – one that has them both wound as tightly as a taut rubber band – but Erin is determined to keep a smile on her face and push on. This is, after all, what she wanted.
In an effort to keep her new husband happy and full of cheer, a scuba diving expedition is planned. Mark loves to be beneath the water, blotting out the sun and allowing himself to become consumed by the endless depths of the sea. But beneath that turquoise water that shines so much like the stone it’s named for, there is something lurking that is ugly and laced with evil. It’s something that Mark is inadvertently drawn to, and something Erin will never be able to forget … no matter the lengths she will subsequently go to.
Should they tell anyone what they found? It’s not the first question the pair asks, but it is one that lingers in the background. As their minds travel to all sorts of sordid places, Erin and Mark fight the urge to turn on one another. The bag could be the answer to all of their impending problems, and no one knows they have it … right? Except nothing is ever that easy. If something proves too good to be true then chances are, it is.
Where Mark is strategic, Erin is forceful. The two find themselves at odds at how to protect themselves and how to handle the prickly situation they have found themselves in. Both also discover that perhaps they don’t know the other as well as they first thought they did, and Erin must make decisions she never thought she’d ever have to make … all because of something in the water.
Something in the Water is the debut novel from Catherine Steadman, an actress best known for her role as Mabel Lane Fox in the critically acclaimed series Downton Abbey. The book is a New York Times bestseller and is currently being developed into a feature film. It has also been featured in Reese’s Book Club, partnered with Hello Sunshine.
It always makes me take pause when a book is showcased and blown sky high with publicity and hailed as something really special … and then I read it and just don’t get it. Is all the buzz and publicity authentic? Is this truly how readers feel about a particular novel, or is it just hype? And hey, why don’t I feel the same way? Initial reviews for the book were on the high end and almost unbelievably stellar, while more recent reviews have gone down in star level and acclaim.
Something in the Water has been described and hailed as a “truly clever psychological thriller” but … I just didn’t get that. The writing was amateurish at best. It was choppy to an almost cringe-worthy degree. The voice needed better clarity and the plot needed better editing. It felt inauthentic and silly, you know – like an actress thought so much of herself that she figured she could sit in front of a computer for a few hours and bang out a smash hit novel.
I found myself rushing to get through it because it just began to fall so terribly apart about halfway through. I had an overwhelming feeling that the author came and went in waves of genuinely caring about what she was writing and then not giving an absolute damn. I could almost sense the pauses in the author’s focus. The believability aspect went downhill faster than a fart in church as Erin’s actions became more and more erratic. I get it, she’s a sociopath but … can we make it just a little more believable, please? I just don’t get why this book was so popular. Is it because a celebrity wrote it? Is it because another celebrity vouched for it?
The first chapter was great, as a lot of them are in novels. I mean, the first sentence truly sucked me in. I was ready. I was intrigued. I was feeling all of those deliciously giddy feelings that I get when I sit down with a new thriller. I was ready to be scared, ready to begin winding my way through a thick plot and ready to find out what exactly was in that water! But as page after page was turned, I became more and more disappointed and I lost all sense of investment. It was all a little too contrived, and felt like 100 other bad books I’ve read before.
Sadly, I have to give this novel a mere 2 out of 5 stars. I know I’m somewhat in the minority here … at least according to Goodreads and the blogs, but still. This book is not worth wasting your time on if you are a real thriller connoisseur. Sometimes the writing should just be left to the real writers.