Into the Water is a book about the ways women can be blamed for a man's actions whether it be the man himself casting the blame or other people. It's about how men are excused for their wrongdoings because they are good men while women are persecuted for their wrongdoings. It's a book about troublesome women.
Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.
Nel's body is found in the Drowning Pool, a spot where a number of women's bodies have been found over the centuries. Nel was in the process of writing a book about these women, and it appears that she chose to end her life as they had. She left behind a 15-year-old daughter, Lena, whose best friend, Katie, drowned herself in the same place a few months earlier and an estranged sister, Jules, who became Lena's guardian upon Nel's death. Jules hadn't spoken to her sister in years, but is now forced to return to her old home for her niece, bringing back old memories as she tries to make sense of her sister's death.
This book has a lot of points of view to sort out which made keeping everyone straight very difficult at the start of the book. I eventually got everyone down, but I had to keep reminding myself of who was who for a while there. This made for a slow start to the book, but things did pick up after a bit and then I sped through the book.
Somewhere in the middle of the book, I noted that there was a lot of women being blamed for everything. Things like this can make me wary since I'm used to a number of books having all women, except the heroine, depicted as evil, but with the earlier "troublesome women" quote, I was hopeful that this was completely intentional, and I was not disappointed. A later exchange between Lena and Jules confirmed it for me.
Lena’s voice grew cold. “I don’t understand you. I don’t understand people like you, who always choose to blame the woman. If there’s two people doing something wrong and one of them’s a girl, it’s got to be her fault, right?”
“No, Lena, it’s not like that, it isn’t—“
“Yes, it is. It’s, like, when someone has an affair, why does the wife always hate the other woman? Why doesn’t she hate her husband? He’s the one who’s betrayed her, he’s the one who swore to love her and keep her and whatever forever and ever. Why isn’t he the one who gets shoved off a fucking cliff?”
And women getting all the blame is what we see throughout the book. One of the first girls drowned a few centuries ago was a 14-year-old girl who was accused of seducing a 34-year-old man and leading the poor, innocent man astray. Nel was blamed for Katie's suicide.(show spoiler)
And when some of the women try to point out that a man should be held accountable for what he's done wrong, they are met with resistance from other women.
“He loved her,” Lena said. “Doesn’t that make him a good person, that he tried to find out what happened to her?”
“But, Lena, don’t you see…?”
“He’s a good person, Julia. How could I say anything? It would have got him into trouble, and he doesn’t deserve that. He’s a good man.”
But we got this wonderful thought from the female investigator of the case that shows exactly what she thinks about "good men."
There are a lot of them about. My father was a good man. He was a respected officer. Didn’t stop him beating the shit out of me and my brother when he lost his temper, but still. When my mother complained to one of his colleagues after he broke my youngest brother’s nose, his colleague said, “There’s a thin blue line, love, and I’m afraid you just don’t cross it.”
I just really liked the last part of the book where it becomes evident that all the women being blamed for everything is part of a larger point. I even appreciated how one of the people who was making those points about one man still was guilty of excusing another for his wrongs because she saw him as "good" and didn't want to ruin his life over it. Despite seeing things so clearly in one area, she still had a blind spot for another area.
I also liked the relationship between Jules and Lena who start out on the wrong foot with one another, but grow to understand each other as they learn how to communicate. Both of them are "messed up" as Lena puts it, but that doesn't mean they can't form a family together.
Most of the characters in this are unlikable, with several being particularly awful, but I still loved a few of them, despite their faults. No one is perfect or without some measure of fault for at least one of the issues in the book. But some of the characters are given more than their fair share of the blame. There's not an easy or clear answer to how much blame someone deserves for each issue. Just an acknowledgement that there's typically an unfair distribution of that blame.
Despite a slow start with a large cast of characters to keep straight, I ended up loving the Into the Water. It may have taken a little bit to draw me in, but once it had me, I was glued to it. I have a feeling it will be on my mind for a while.