WATER WITCHES by Chris Bohjalian


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 The many different elements in this novel--including environmentalists, dowsing, and family loyalty--converge in a smooth and natural flow. Narrator Scottie--who notes that his childhood nickname has stuck long past appropriateness--is an attorney who lives in Landaff, Vt., with his wife, Laura, whose family is known for being strange, and for being able to locate water. Laura's confrontational sister, Patience, has particularly strong abilities and has also located oil, lost children, and missing valuables. Scottie and Laura have a young daughter, Miranda, who appears to be developing as quite a dowser as well, and Patience is eager, perhaps too eager, to take over her education. Scottie is representing a ski resort called Powder Peak in its bid for expansion, a project which has brought him into opposition with a local environmentalist state senator, who also happens to be engaged to Patience. This family connection might seem too facile, but Bohjalian does an impressive job painting Landaff as ``the sort of town where everyone is indeed related to everyone, and the town meeting that occurs on the first Tuesday of every March is as much a family reunion as it is an exercise in legislative self- determination.'' In the past, Bohjalian (Past the Bleachers, 1992, etc.) has faltered on plot points, relying on clichÇ to bring things together, but here his tempered voice finds its narrative niche, whether describing the peaceful setting with rumblings of discontent just under the surface, the circus-like arena of environmental politics (those opposing expansion form a group called ``Citizens Opposed to the Powder Peak Environmental Rape''), or Scottie's own internal struggles. Subtlety is key. When Scottie and fourth-grader Miranda spot catamounts on the mountain, he knows that expansion must be stopped and abruptly switches sides. Bohjalian slips in information about catamounts, dowsing, Y rods and the like without ever sounding preachy or falling out of Scottie's cohesive voice. Buoyant and brilliant.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1995
ISBN: 0-87451-687-0
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994


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