Sarah Epstein, Deep Water, Allen & Unwin, March 2020, 400 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760877286
Chloe’s friend Henry disappears during a freak storm. Questions surround Henry’s disappearance: has he run away to find his estranged father, was there misadventure at the hands of his alcoholic mother or his troubled and violent older brother, Mason?
Set in the fictional town of The Shallows in rural New South Wales, Deep Water traces the aftermath of the freak storm and the search for Henry Weaver. Chloe and her remaining friends investigate Henry’s disappearance. Chloe doggedly seeks the truth, sometimes with little regard for her own safety. She interrogates friends and family, whilst attempting to protect her own secrets.
Moving between the past and the present, told in Henry, Mason and Chloe’s voices this complex, well-written, yet somewhat predictable story unfolds.
Many of the stereotypes of small country towns are represented including the laid-back police detective, the small business operators struggling after a natural disaster and the closeted homosexual youth. Sarah Epstein’s portrayal of the alcoholic mother is somewhat troubling, as throughout the story she is variously pitied and shamed by others. Despite many in the community being aware of the abuse and neglect she visits upon her two sons, no one intervenes. As part of the book’s resolution, she is sent to a treatment facility begging the question, why was this not done sooner? Further, the victims of her illness seem forgotten or overlooked, their welfare is not addressed. Additionally, two characters who survive significant trauma seem to be left to their own devices to deal with their experiences rather than being connected with professional help – maybe a further stereotype of country living, but unsettling nonetheless.
However, Deep Water is so well-written that perhaps it can be forgiven for its shortcomings. The text contains many descriptive sentences that made me wish I possessed Epstein’s way with words, for example, …hard words punch the still night air, leaving ugly bruises on the silence. And …a breeze at my back seems to shunt me inside, a chorus of crickets mocking my impulsive behaviour.
I would recommend this page-turner for more mature readers (14+ years).
Reviewed by Anne Varnes