Breathing Water by T. Greenwood

After learning of the death of her abusive ex-boyfriend, a woman returns to the home by the lake she once loved to build a new life and exorcise old ghosts.

I am a very big fan of T. Greenwood’s second novel, Nearer than the Sky, and I have no excuse for why it took me so long to read Breathing Water, her debut. Simply put, Greenwood is a beautiful prose stylist who isn’t afraid to explore dark and scary places with characters who feel like people you’ve known all your life.

Even after his death, Efffie is haunted by the man she loved who loved her back with his fists and anger. The night she finally gathered the courage to leave, tragedy struck a nearby family, and Effie has always blamed herself. She’s finally returned to the lake where it happened, to pack up the place to sell, when she learns that her ex-boyfriend has died of a drug overdose. Even as she takes tentative steps towards a new love, she knows she has to reconcile her past before she’ll be free to live her life.

This is a gorgeously crafted book, and a real pleasure to read. Last fall I reviewed Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen, which covered similar ground without half as much artfulness or subtlety. Greenwood takes a premise tailor-made for on-the-nose execution and spins a fabulously rich tale about family, friendship, and taking risks for love.

I loved this passage from late in the book, which also shows that Greenwood is a bit of a kindred spirit:

“I’ll read the same books twenty times looking for that too. Books let you do that, you know what I mean? You can go back to the same place over and over. Maybe the first time you read a book you were lying in a hammock in the spring. But you can pick up that book in the middle of December on a bus to San Francisco and you’ll be back their again. It’s like making your own deja vu.”

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