The Boatman’s Daughter.
Davidson, Andy (author).Feb. 2020. 416p. Farrar/MCD, paper, $16 (9780374538552).
First published December 1, 2019 (Booklist).
Davidson [In the Valley of the Sun] presents another hauntingly lyrical story that is dripping with atmosphere, in which the complicated characters and foreboding setting take the lead, draw readers in and envelope them in this brutal yet beautiful tale. Told through an omniscient lens, readers are introduced to a broken town, deep in the bayous and along the river banks of Southwestern Arkansas. Miranda ferries contraband for a corrupt sheriff and a neerdowell preacher, trying her best to make a living among the dense forests, winding rivers, and run down buildings. A stormy, tragic evening, 11 years prior, set Miranda's life on this path, and she cannot break free for many reasons, some apparent, some hidden by or from her, and even a few that are tied down by a dark magic. The novel, centered around Miriam’s final three runs, uses these criminal endeavours to tell the story of the interconnected characters and a place across generations, revealing the sins, secrets and magic, recounting brutal violence and desperation but also love and forgiveness. It is a story of monsters, both human and supernatural, where no one is innocent and yet, the lines between good and evil are still clearly drawn. Told with a restraint in the narration, a storytelling style where no detail is unnecessary, a slow burn that explodes at the novel’s mid-point, making room for the plot and the pacing to breathe and unravel toward the novel’s satisfying conclusion, this is a confidently told narrative that fully embraces its roots in the horror genre while also claiming a rightful place alongside Southern Gothic classics of the 21st Century such as Sing, Unburied, Sing by Ward, Winter’s Bone by Woodrell, and A Land More Kind Than Home by Cash.
Further Appeal: This is Davidson's second novel and I am telling you, I LOVED his debut, but this one is better. It is a crime novel with a fairy tale, timeless feel [although it appears to be 1979-80 where the "present" action takes place, if you follow the scant clues and do the math]. And there are non-negotiable supernatural elements. This is not a Tremblay book where it could be real or it could be supernatural and you get to decide...Nope. There are monsters here. Actual monsters.
I would like to address the timeless, fairy tale tone. I tried to portray that feel in the review but I don't get many words and I wanted to make sure to be explicit here. It is Southern Gothic meets Fairytale.
The book builds world details and characters relentlessly for the first half of the book. The storytelling moves it along, but it is at a steady, not brisk pace. And the thing is, the details will all matter....every...single...one. There is a literally breaking point in the middle of the book [almost exactly] where the story explodes and races to its conclusion.
The Boatman's Daughter is an immersive reading experience that will envelop readers in every facet, with its setting, characters, storyline, tone, message, all of it. And it will leave you thinking about many real world issues in its wake.
Three Words That Describe This Book: lyrical, haunting, complex characters
Readalikes: I give you three above. I also have more in the In the Valley of the Sun review. Check all of those out. But the three in the review, taken together represent this title very well. Also, those 3 readalikes are all titles that have done very well with a public library audience; therefore, I would argue, so will this one.
I also think that fans of Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton or anything by Karen Russell will enjoy this title too. In fact, I also love Russell and that link goes to any time I have mentioned her as a readalike or reviewed her books, leading you to many more options.
I would also like to mention how happy I have been with the books under the MCDxFSG imprint. I would highly suggest anything that comes from them. I recently reviewed Tinfoil Butterfly by Moulton and I am a huge fan of The Grip of It by Jemc. But all of the titles. They are all different in plot, but very similar in feel. They are all atmospheric, lyrical, character centered, and very unsettling. I don't usually make an overarching "imprint" readalike but MCD as an imprint is a great resource for more readalikes, at least right now.