The Waters & The Wild by DeSales Harrison, Review: Poetic introspection

In DeSales Harrison’s The Waters & The Wild… haunted by a past crime and a past lover, a psychoanalyst tries to protect his daughter from his mistakes—but at what cost?

DeSales Harrison The Waters and The Wild

The Waters & The Wild Synopsis:

This dazzling gothic-tinged thriller takes us deep into a labyrinth of secrets, lies, and deceptions.”—Dan Chaon, New York Times bestselling author of Ill Will

Daniel Abend is a single parent in New York City, with a successful therapy practice and a comfortable life: an apartment on the Upper West Side, a teenage daughter, a peaceful daily routine. When one of his patients commits suicide, it is a tragedy, but one easily explained: The young woman suffered from depression and drug addiction.

But soon after, Daniel receives an ominous note that makes him question the circumstances surrounding his patient’s death. He is provided with a provocative series of clues—a mysterious key, a cryptic poem, a photograph with a chilling message. A few days later, his daughter abruptly disappears.

Daniel is swept into an increasingly desperate search for his daughter, and for the truth—a search that stretches back decades, to when he was a young man living in Paris, falling in love with a woman who would ultimately upend his life. As he is tormented by a steady flow of anonymous letters, Daniel recognizes that he must confront the secrets of his past: There is a debt to be paid, an account to be settled.

(Penguin Random House, 2018)

Genre: Literature, Drama, Thriller, Mystery

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The Waters & The Wild is a book I would recommend only to those with strong literary leanings, and a particular interest in (or at least, patience for) psychological theory, theology and introspection.

That is not to say this novel’s billing as a literary thriller is incorrect… It is simply that readers must traverse hundreds of pages of highly literary terrain before the thriller element really takes hold. It really needn’t have been that challenging.

Yet the right reader, one that gives conscientious focus to the myriad tangents and imagery laid before them, will often find that ‘highly literary terrain’ profound; and dare I say it, in places majestic.

It seems to me now that when I removed it from the post box and read my address, spelled out patiently in careful block capitals, there followed a moment of stillness, a floating like the floating of a vase or glass that, having escaped the hand’s grasp, turns lazily, luxuriates in air, as though no haste could trouble it before it shatters on the floor.

While I have little appetite for theology, I found the philosophical debates and the unreliability of narrators interesting. Harrison’s use of the subtle nuance of poetic verse and photographic composition to menace was fascinating.

I admired this novel’s complex web of intrigue, but what held greatest appeal for me was the poetry of Harrison’s prose. As the evocative cover art suggests, The Waters & The Wild explores the darkest depths of love, obsession and personal conceit, and the poetic beauty to be found within that darkness — heavy and affecting subject matter.

I think that in the soul of each psychoanalyst such a place must exist, in spite of what we profess about our neutrality, our professional detachment. Perhaps something of what we receive can be melted down and sold back as candlelight—our costly illuminations—but other elements remain just as they appeared, the dreams nailed to the walls, the abandoned hearts and limbs, the soot of inextinguishable longing.

Penguin Random House reportedly purchased North American rights to The Waters & The Wild for seven-figures (2 book deal) just before the 2015 London Book Fair*. I suspect this dark, dense debut from Harrison may not hold the broad commercial appeal anticipated, but based on its literary merits, my radar will certainly be alert to future titles from Harrison.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of The Waters & The Wild from:

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The is review counts towards my participation in the 2018 New Release Challenge.

About the Author, DeSales Harrison

DeSales Harrison is an associate professor of modern poetry and acting director of the Creative Writing Program at Oberlin College. He earned his BA from Yale University, his MA from Johns Hopkins University, and his PhD from Harvard University. He studied psychoanalysis at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research in New York. He is married to the literary critic Laura Baudot, has four children, and spends part of the year near Nevers, France.

* One wonders to what extent, if any, DeSales Harrison’s fleeting notoriety after the publication of his actress ex-wife’s divorce memoir fiction played a part in that 7-figure sum, as compared to his notable academic credentials in poetry and creative writing.

* My receiving a copy of The Waters & The Wild from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.