cover image Things We Found When the Water Went Down

Things We Found When the Water Went Down

Tegan Nia Swanson. Catapult, $22.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-64622-169-1

In Swanson’s impressive experimental debut, a man’s murder leads to a sordid aftermath in a rural mining town. After Hugo Mitchum is found face down by rangers in a near-frozen swamp, his death is ruled a homicide. Mitchum was a nasty, abusive miscreant since adolescence who loathed Marietta Abernathy, which, in addition to the fact that his body is discovered near her home, makes her the prime suspect. After Marietta, known as “the Obsessive Collector of Ephemera,” is taken into custody for questioning, she escapes and vanishes soon after. Then her daughter, Lena, discovers a steamer trunk full of memorabilia from her mother’s frequent travels. The circuitous narrative branches out to include details about Marietta and Lena’s lives, the area’s dark lore, and a bevy of clues imparted through a collage of newspaper headlines, interviews, illustrations, footnotes, memories, and typewritten letters. By the second half, the parts crystallize into a legacy of sexual abuse and a chronicle of revenge. The result is a darkly provocative assemblage ripe with quirky characters and undertones of horror, with allegorical notes grounded in the landscape upon which the citizens live and thrive. This gloomy and atmospheric mystery works on multiple levels. (Dec.)