Drowning With Others, the second novel by the writing team of Keir Graff and Linda Joffe Hull, begins with the exhumation of former Glenlake Academy poetry teacher Dallas Walker from his grave, in this case a mud-covered metallic blue muscle car at the bottom of Lake Loomis. There’s not much left of Dallas. After all, it’s been 22 years since he went missing.
The discovery of the wreck in the murky water gives a new writing teacher an idea—to investigate the disappearance, to “shadow the police investigation, and, eventually, to tell the story of how this happened.”
Among the writing teacher’s students is Cassidy, who is in her senior year at Glenlake. Cassidy’s parents are Andi and Ian Copeland—who were classmates during Dallas Walker’s brief time on campus. Andi and Ian each have reason to suspect that—just maybe—that their spouse might have something to do with Dallas Walker’s watery fate. It’s a concern they could ignore, but not now that “the ghost of Dallas Walker had come howling out of the past to shatter two decades of tranquility.”
Plucking the car and the skeleton from the bottom of the lake sets in a motion a rich novel that puts reputations—and public image—at stake. Andi and Ian’s relationship got off to a somewhat rocky start at Glenlake Academy, in no small part due to Dallas Walker’s dalliance with Andi. Dallas was a bit of a wild man. He liked to be seen as a tough guy—but then vanished. Years later, Andi and Ian have what appears to be an all-American marriage and a lot to protect.
Drowning With Others—a great title for many reasons—flips back and forth across the decades and rotates points of view including Cassidy and both parents. Whole chapters are plucked from the daily school journals when Ian Copeland and Andi Bloom attended Glenlake in 1996. Journaling is a daily thing, it turns out, at Glenlake. (A good thing; lots of raw material to, um, exhume.) Andi is determined to ensure certain details of her Glenlake years remain buried. Ian wonders if his youthful jealousy left any obvious traces—and he wants to ensure that he doesn’t lose Andi again. Cassidy starts to earn writing teacher Wayne Kelly’s praise for being a “crack sleuth,” which can’t be good news for either Ian or Andi. There’s friend Georgina, who may have played a role in Walker’s demise, and a jaded and grizzled groundskeeper who has seen it all.
Ian and Andi, now “moneyed prep school parents,” recall events from their Glenlake years, which included that “gulp” moment when Dallas Walker disappeared without explanation. And it all comes roaring back as Ian and Andi, during an alumni weekend visit, hear teacher Wayne Kelly’s describe the class project for the year.
“The evening had taken a left turn with Wayne Kelly’s ambush revelation,” thinks Ian, whose family contributions to the school go back to the days of the robber barons. “After four years of visiting as a parent, and two decades of sporadic returns for fund-raisers and class reunions, Ian had finally stopped holding his breath, thinking the subject of Dallas Williams had truly been laid to rest. And now, like a revenant form one of the poet’s own verses, he had come howling back to tranquil Glenlake to disturb the peace. If it were a Dallas Walker poem, the corpse would have pointed a smug finger at the dumb townsfolk and imparted a lesson about how they were all living their lives in fear.”
With the fast-changing points of view and leaps back and forth across the decades, Drowning With Others rocks right along. Tantalizing bits revealed from 1996 spice up our understanding of Ian’s and Andi’s choices now. The nifty plotting is a thing to admire. So is the variety of voices—adult Ian, youthful Ian, adult Andi, youthful Andi, and Cassidy.
Cassidy moves closer to capturing a more three-dimensional picture of her parents as teenagers (every parent who reads this should stop for a moment, ponder that concept—and then shudder to think) and then novel peels back layers involving class privilege, sexual predators, institutional wealth, and that very precious thing, reputation. The ending and the choices made, coupled with the powerful force of tradition, could launch a thousand book club battles. Drowning with Others is literate, smart, clever, and a joy to read.
Linda Joffe Hull and Keir Graff discuss Drowning with Others on the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast.
Previous Q & A with Linda & Keir regarding The Swing of Things.
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