Title: Water Ghosts
Author: Shawna Yang Ryan
Release Date: April 16, 2009
Publisher: Penguin Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
Locke, CA, 1928— Three bedraggled Chinese women suddenly appear out of the mist one afternoon in a small Chinese farming town on the Sacramento River, and their arrival throws the community into confusion. Two of the women are unknown to the townspeople, while the third is the long-lost wife of Richard Fong, the handsome manager of the local gambling parlor, who had left her behind in China many years earlier and had not yet returned for her.
Richard’s wife’s unexpected arrival complicates his life in no small way—not least with two prostitutes at the local brothel he frequents. One, the beautiful young Chloe, depends on him but has eyes for someone else, someone even more forbidden—the local preacher’s daughter. The other, Poppy, the psychic madam of the brothel, is desperately in love with him, and she begins to sink into despair as he grows further and further away from her.
As the lives of the townspeople become inextricably intertwined with the newly arrived women, Poppy’s premonitions begin to foretell a deep unhappiness for all involved. And when a flood threatens the livelihood of the entire town, the frightening power of these mysterious women who arrived in the mist will be revealed.
Shawna Yang Ryan’s melodic first novel is a passionate, sophisticated intertwining of fact and fiction that examines mingling cultures, modern myths, and forgotten history. Locke 1928 beautifully chronicles separation and betrayal, loneliness and longing, and what happens when a Chinese ghost story begins to come true.
I have to say, I don’t really know how to review this book. It leaves me completely unsure. It’s almost as if I think I’m supposed to like it and I just missed something along the way. I can’t really review it properly because I find that I don’t have much to say about it. It’s not that it was bad, it’s just…I’m not sure.
If I had to pick one world to describe Shawna Yang Ryan’s debut novel Water Ghosts, it would be atmospheric. Though that word has become a sort of cliché within book reviews, it is completely apt for this haunting novel. From the book’s title and cover to Ryan’s lyrical prose, the entire novel creates an atmosphere that is disquieting and filled with unease.
As a side note, the title of Water Ghosts makes a big difference for this novel. Its original title, and the title on the ARC, was Locke, 1928 (Locke is the name of the town where the story takes place). Water Ghosts evokes thoughts of mystery and disquiet. Locke, 1928 makes me think of history.
Shawna Yang Ryan’s writing really makes the book what it is. It is very beautiful; her prose is lush and flows like water over the pages of Water Ghosts. The writing is detailed and very sensory; Ryan describes odor in such a illustrative way that it seems as though the reader can actually smell what she is describing. The entire book is expertly crafted. However, sometimes it is actually a little bit difficult to grasp what is occurring in the novel because of Ryan’s writing. It is so atmospheric in some instances that you may have to read a paragraph twice before understanding what she is trying to convey.
Like I said, I don’t really know how to review this book. Ryan’s writing was beautiful, but that and the surprising ending were all I really noted about it. It wasn’t necessarily bad, it just didn’t really leave much of an impression on me!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book to review!