Related Articles: Literary, All

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson

Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?

Were bookstores more like record shops with their endless streams of subcategories (metal, thrash, emo-metal, hair metal), then within the field of “fiction” and “literary fiction” you would find plastic dividers for “southern gothic novel” populated by modern day Faulkners such as Christopher Rice and then we would have “chicklit southern gothic (without vampires)” and there we would find Joshilyn Jackson’s work. Her third novel is entitled The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

Laurel Hawthorne lives a placid life as an art quilter with her coder husband David (Laurel finds it distressing that David’s California contacts call him “Dave”) and her pre-teen daughter Shelby in a gated community near the Florida/Alabama border. When a ghost in the form of a dripping girl appears at Laurel’s bedpost one night, she follows the apparition outside to discover the body of her daughter’s best friend floating in the pool. The tragedy reminds her of the last time she saw a ghost, that of her uncle, during her own childhood. The convergence of tragedy and memory forces Laurel to contact her wayward sister Thalia to help her investigate what has recently occurred.

Where Laurel models the emblem of hearth and home and southern propriety, her older sister Thalia is the leather to her lace. She is an actress married to a gay man and together they run an avant-garde theater company. Jackson crafts Thalia into a modern day Dorothy Parker -- the affairs, the loud mouth, the thong underwear thrown at audience members ¬all the way down to her penchant for using vocabulary such as “fresh hell” to describe everyday life.

The reason why this novel will speak to many women west of the Mason-Dixon line is that it dramatizes core fears: losing a child due to your own negligence, repeating parenting mistakes, losing your spouse, and the inability to accept your own heritage.

Since the victim in this mystery was not a member of the family, the question becomes, why was she here and what did she want Laurel to know? This leads down a path graded with forks: "Desperate Housewife" neighbors, Shelby’s tween friends, and the Hawthorne family themselves.

According to Freaknomics, more children die in swimming pools than from guns found in homes. Common suburban refrains: Who is watching the kids? It’s 10pm do you know where your children are? The tick of the clock in this novel is the interplay between a mother asking herself those questions and then asking herself again in the presence of her sister, when the child is question is herself.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover, $24
ISBN: 0-446-57965-3
312 pages