Three sisters, secreted away during a global crisis of male violence, learn to fight for their survival in this spare, dystopian debut.
Grace, Lia, and Sky follow the rituals enforced by their mother and their father, King, the only man they've ever known. The strange family lives in an isolated, crumbling mansion by the sea, where women arrive to receive the family's storied water cures and heal from violent pasts. They look like "they had been bled out, their skin limp. Eyes watering involuntarily, hair thinning," recalls Lia, and the sisters learn to fear a world that visits so much violence on its women. There are water cures for everything: to purify toxins from the outside world, illness, grief, too much feeling. The rituals themselves are often violent, requiring drowning or self-harm. When the novel opens, the sisters are mourning the death of King and the discovery of Grace's pregnancy, which disrupts their harmony and fractures their routines. To complicate matters, three men wash up on shore and beg for entry. Met with deep suspicion and relegated to the beach, the men become figures of both fascination and fear. Mackintosh alternates between the sisters' collective voices and the heartbreaking narratives of Grace and Lia. Despite being warned by her sisters and mother to stay away, Lia begins her first love affair with Llew, who is by turns charming, careless, and cruel. Grace gives birth to King's stillborn baby boy, an experience that isolates her from her younger sisters and her mother, who inexplicably disappears. While the narrative at times veers toward the pedantic, it's both shocking and refreshing to see the observations women make to one another—about the specific, learned cruelties and emotional violence of men—represented so plainly on the page. "It was no one big thing but many small things," one of the patients writes in the house Welcome Book. "Each one chipped away at me. By the end, I felt skinless." Ultimately, Grace, Lia, and Sky must make a choice: to trust the men or to save one another.
An evocative coming-of-age novel that captures the fear, rage, and yearning of three women growing up in a time of heightened violence.