It occurs to me that I should change the title to “Five Great Reads Featuring Creepy Ass Bodies of Water,” to avoid confusion. But I don’t know of any books that feature ass water at all, and that they would be creepy if they did would go without saying, so I’m going to leave it as is.
Thank you for joining me today, as I push upon you five of my favorite reads that somehow star creepy water. Ominous water. Malevolent liquid. You get the idea. But how can water be creepy, you may be asking, hopefully not out loud because I am not there and cannot actually hear you. Water is nice. We need it. It’s pretty in all those shots of sparkly sunsets and old people fishing on some lake up north wearing those hats with hooks in them and talking about Sally Ann and how she makes the best coffee. And sure, that is nice, on the surface.
Underneath, though, are currents to drown you and lots of decaying dead things and darkness and murk and then a miraculous freshwater shark jumps out of the lake and into the boat and bites Herbert in half and lets Morty swim halfway to shore before dragging him down by one foot and then the lake calms and goes back to being a postcard, see what I mean?
So let’s take a look at five.
The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan
That’s far more relaxed than I’d look drowning. This novel is a fictionalized memoir of India Morgan Phelps (Imp, to her friends) an artist struggling with mental illness, whose already complicated life takes a strange turn when she picks up hitchhiker Eva Canning, sole survivor of a cult whose members walked into the sea. Is Eva a ghost? A selkie-like sea creature in human form? As Imp delves into the mysterious woman’s history, there is plenty to question, including the reliability of Imp’s own accounting.
For lovers of unreliable narrators this book is a must. And there’s plenty of creepy ass water to be found, particularly the cold waves of the Atlantic along the coasts of Rhode Island.
“So Much Water So Close To Home” by Raymond Carver
A bit of a cheat as this is a short story. But there’s water right there in the title, so let’s let that go. And, not-so-spoiler alert: it’s water with a dead body in it! “So Much Water So Close To Home” deals with the aftermath of a body discovered in a river during a fishing trip, which would be far less troubling had the body taken precedence over the fishing. Short Cuts is a worthy collection, also featuring the delightfully woman-fearing “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?”
The entire collection been made into a film, co-starring Ariel from Footloose, and this story in particular was also adapted into the Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne vehicle: Jindabyne.
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
This is not the cover I have. I have the girl in the dress. But look how cute these rabbits are.
This book won the Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature and it is 100% deserved. There’s creepy water in it, islands surrounded by the stuff, people lost to it and what have you. It is seven connected stories exploring the theme of sacrifice, and you should just read it, okay? Do you like The Wicker Man?
No, not that one. Don’t be ridiculous.
If you like The Wicker Man, you should check out Midwinterblood.
So Shelly by Ty Roth
Don’t do it man, it’s cold.
Byron, Keats and Shelley reimagined as high schoolers against the creepy ass backdrop of Lake Erie, what could go wrong? The direction that Michelle “Shelly” Shelley is headed on the cover there should give you a clue. This one turns Lake Erie practically into its own character, and though I’ve always found Lake Erie to be only the third most creepy of the Great Lakes, it works. (After Superior and Huron, obviously. It’s #1 Superior, thanks to that Gordon Lightfoot song about not giving up her dead, then Huron, because Look. At. That. Thing. It looks mean. Then Erie, Michigan, and Ontario. Don’t ask me why Ontario is last. It knows why.)
Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne (The Eclipse Duo) by Stephen King
Two of the first novels I ever read. I was ten. Did they warp me? I’d like to think so.
Cheating because this is two but I always think of them together, since I read them so close together, and since they are so closely connected by their content and because sometimes I mash their covers against one another like they’re kissing.
Both of these tales tackle the theme of abuse: Dolores Claiborne the abuse by her husband who may have also sexually abused their daughter, and Gerald’s Game the childhood sexual abuse of now-grown Jessie Burlingame, who also happens to be trapped alone in her house handcuffed to her bed. Their stories are framed by the same solar eclipse that passed over Dark Score Lake and Little Tall Island in Maine on July 20, 1963. Dark Score is just a terribly disturbing name for a lake, so nice job there, Mr. King. Little Tall Island on the other hand, is a stupid name for an island, but islands are inherently creepy, surrounded by that blasted water all the time, so it gets a pass.
Top image: “The Raft” from Creepshow 2 (1987)
Kendare Blake lives and writes in Kent, Washington, and her newest novel, Three Dark Crowns, features its own disturbing island surrounded by creepy ass water.