Three women learn what it means to come home--and to make peace with the family, love affairs, and memories they'd once left behind--in this stunning and perceptive debut novel.
River Bend, Michigan, is the kind of small town most can't imagine leaving but three women couldn't wait to escape. When each must return--Linda Williams, never sure what she wants; her mother, Paula, always too sure; and Beth DeWitt, one of River Bend's only black daughters, now a mother of two who'd planned to raise her own children anywhere else--their paths collide under Beth's father's roof. As one town struggles to contain all of their love affairs and secrets, a local scandal forces Beth to confront her own devastating past.
Uniting the voices of mothers and daughters, husbands, lovers, and fathers, this unforgettable debut novel offers both a compulsively readable family story and a riveting portrait of small-town America today. With wisdom, humor, and exceptional heart, The House of Deep Water explores motherhood, trauma, love, loss, and new beginnings found in that most unlikely place: home.
About the Author
Jeni McFarland holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston, where she was a fiction editor at Gulf Coast Magazine. She is an alum of Tin House, a 2016 Kimbilio Fellow, and has had short fiction published in Crack the Spine, Forge, and Spry, which nominated her for the storySouth Million Writers Award. She was also a finalist for the 2015 Gertrude Stein Writers Award in Fiction from the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. She has lived in Michigan and the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two cats. The House of Deep Water is her first novel.
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“The House of Deep Water uses a town built on Midwestern stoicism to take a deep look at family dynamics and the ties that bind.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“A nuanced, realistic portrait of small-town America, brimming with secrets and scandal.”—Salon
“If you just binged Little Fires Everywhere, you’ll want to pick up this debut that examines family ties, racial microaggressions, and the power of intergenerational trauma.” –Betches
“Jeni McFarland writes nuanced, layered relationships in her absorbing debut about three women who return to the small town of their childhoods and grapple with family, race, class and the expectations of womanhood.” –Ms. Magazine
“An edgy take on modern relationships against the family wreckage of the past….Absolutely gripping…The reader could as easily place the overlay of damaged connections on any family or community, and the most delicious aspect of the prose is McFarland’s introspection, as if she were turning over a multifaceted gem in her hands, admiring the colors refracted by a narrative prism.” –Lone Star Literary
“In telling a very complex…story in a style of both grace and strength, this literary novel…[gets] a lot right…This is an important career a-borning, and is sure to be mentioned for awards and year’s-best-lists—but for now just a terrific read.” –Shawangunk Journal
“If you’re in the mood to read a book about motherhood, love, loss, drama, healing and finding new beginnings even in places you don’t think you’d be able to find them, pick up The House of Deep Water.” —Book Riot
“Confronting the fragility of all relationships—parents, children, siblings, lovers, friends—McFarland creates a raw, intimate portrait of small-town U.S.A.” –Shelf Awareness
“Just like life, McFarland’s debut is big, messy, and complicated while also being a completely engrossing portrait of her characters and their hometown. She deftly weaves in issues of race and consent. Perfect for those who like books about family dysfunction.” —Booklist
“[A] fine debut. . . Handled with realistic nuance. McFarland’s layered tale will appeal to readers who liked Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage.” —Publishers Weekly
“McFarland knows her way through the murk . . . The flood hinted at in the title arrives and delivers. So, in the end, does the story. A matriarchal tale asks who can thrive in small-town America.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Beautifully crafted, deeply moving, this timely debut novel is a masterful exploration of class, race and what it means to be a woman. McFarland has written that rare novel: a compelling page turner that has you savoring every sentence.” —Bianca Marais, author of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words
“You think a novel can’t possibly do it all, and then you read The House of Deep Water. Here are voices from the heartland--outsiders and deserters, mothers and fathers, newly born and newly dead--rendered real, raw, and aching. Daringly told and dizzingly capable, these voices are finely braided into the most American of stories, that of the impossibility and inevitability of returning home. To say this novel redefines what it means to be a family is an understatement; this novel is a family, veering past and present, stitching the shipwrecked and the wanderers into a beautiful, irregular tapestry. Reminiscent of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, this novel announces Jeni McFarland as a writer of our generation.” —Aja Gabel, author of The Ensemble
"A sensitive and aching meditation on reluctant homecomings, complicated families, and past selves. Poetic and yet unflinchingly told, this book does not provide clean absolution; rather, as Linda, Paula, and Beth confront the town and community that have shaped them, their weaving narratives mirror the messy contours of our real lives." —Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me
“What a resounding symphony of voices! I knew and loved these people like family—flaws and all—by the final page. A rare novel that reveals human folly and restores hope at the same time.” —Zach Powers, author of First Cosmic Velocity
“Creates a place so real it feels like you can step into it, populated by characters so alive you can almost hear them breathing. McFarland's powerful debut is a brilliant exploration of home and heartbreak, and how we live with both of them.” —Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day
“A Midwestern Gothic . . . It's about women building new lives against the currents of racism, class and gender inequality. It’s about how relatives can know each other better than anyone else and still remain strangers. McFarland’s prose churns spiraling waves of quiet tension that roar to brilliant and deeply affecting breaks.” —Donald Quist, author of For Other Ghosts and Harbors
"This book is full of all the things that can't be admitted and must be said about women and race in America. Reading Jeni McFarland's gorgeous prose felt like listening to the most private moments in the lives of these women, around a kitchen table in heartland America." —A. Rafael Johnson, author of The Through
“A poetic hum underpins this intergenerational tale that slowly tangles the residents in relationships that draw people back to small towns, and drive them away. The House of Deep Water is unflinchingly honest.” —Tara Betts, author of Break the Habit
“Unflinchingly examines the agonizing links of history and fate and love that inextricably bind the families of River Bend. There is abundant beauty present in the rendering of the darkness in these lives, and also, ultimately, in its presentation of moments of redeeming grace. This novel is a stunner.” —David Haynes, author of A Star in the Face of the Sky