by Mike Meginnis
“The Drowning Practice” is a book about a dream and reads like a dream at the same time: melancholy and luminous, circular and discursive, resistant to easy interpretation.
The premise of Mike Meginnis’s second novel after “The Fat Man and the Little Boy” is simple and bizarre: One night, everyone in the world has the same dream, on November 1 there will be a flood that will drown everything and everyone. . Then there are “a few optimistic, agnostic and well-meaning liars” who try to ignore the vision, but all too often people start preparing for the end.
Fans of apocalyptic fiction should be warned that “The Drowning Practice” is not a tale of brave heroes who come together to save the day, or a meticulously crafted portrait of the collapse of civilization (Meginnis finds moments for clever glimpses into America’s end times). : tiger parents who insist on dropping their kids off to college in the fall; Ads that say “You only have 33 days to refinance your mortgage”; etc.). The book’s attention is not on the end of the world, but on the end of a particular family: a depressed novelist named Lyd; self-pitying narcissistic ex-husband David; and their intelligent and sensitive 13-year-old daughter, Mott.
As the end begins, Lyd sets herself in motion. After the end of her career and marriage, she spent years in isolation in her DC-area apartment. She now picks up Mott from school, where the teacher is a mess and is teaching Mott and takes him on a journey. Lyd wants her child to see a little more of the world before she disappears, but mostly she wants to get away from her ex-husband. As paranoid as he was, David never let go of their relationship and apparently considered hiring Lyd as a typewriter so he could keep her under false surveillance, as he had done throughout all of their years together. Among those who deny the certainty of the impending doom, David is determined to reunite his shattered family. He coldly tells Lyd that it’s time they finished “this whole divorce experiment.”
The novel’s point of view rotates between Lyd, David, and Mott, and Mott’s episodes are often the most fascinating. Unlike her parents, who were both deeply damaged long before the apocalypse began, Mott is charming and inquisitive, loving to a world crumbling beneath her. However, the fragile fiction writer is so obsessed with her mother that she is also writing a book, hers about a mother and daughter who change bodies. This book-within-a-book is also dreamy and about dreams: “The mother dreamed of giving birth to herself by coming out of her own body, which was removed by the doctor, and the daughter dreamed of leaving her baby body to stay in the womb, where she was warm and safe.”
As the days roll into November in earnest, Mott is working on his novel; Lyd struggles with sobriety; And they’re both hiding from David. Meanwhile, David sits at his computer in Virginia, taking drugs and surveillance for an unnamed government agency investigating the nature of the November prophecy.
Overall, Meginnis seems less interested in what people do. to do than during an apocalypse it feels like living during an apocalypse: how impending death feels for Lyd as her current traumas coalesce; How he felt for Mott, who was trying to reconcile his love for his father with his mother’s resentment for him. David’s emotions are here, too, as disturbing as they may be – his obsession, his urge to cruelty, his deepening narcissism and paranoia.
The plot is more convoluted than gaining momentum as well as collecting new, wacky stories along the way. David acts as a therapist to collect and record the dreams of law enforcement; Mott befriends a troubled 20-something named Meredith, who has her own dark stories from the past; David hires an actor to pretend to be him and goes on TV to learn about his missing family. Stories within stories come and go, not always with a clear solution or purpose, if the main narrative question is – will David be able to catch up with Lyd and Mott? — resolves suddenly and with a strange sense of anticlimax. If all this sounds like the way stories work in dreams and not novels, I strongly suspect it’s not a coincidence.
It is young Mott who bases the novel on all this. Readers will support him: finishing writing a book, finishing reading a book – he is checking “Little Women” and carries it through her entire journey, and perhaps even to the end of her life. “The Drowning Practice” often sounds like a parable of incompleteness, and Mott is our hope, our luck, our dream for the future.
And then November 1 comes. Some of the strongest writing in “The Drowning Practice” comes in the captivating final pages of the book, evoking an emotional mood through its stark explanation of simple things: “all the clothes no one wants,” “all the coffee rings on hard paper,” “towels,” “a disposable one.” dead batteries in the container.” And finally, it is the elusive style of dreams that dominates.
“The Drowning Practice” is certainly partly slow, and some of its more bizarre tangents may have been cut or reshaped to better serve the central narrative. But like a dream, it follows its own logic, and like many dreams, it has stayed with me in the hours I’ve been awake since it arose.