Reed Books: The Boatman’s Daughter

Jess Reed, Editor

I’m going to college in Maryland, which, to the New Jersey-Massachusetts native, is basically the South, so I’ve started picking up Southern Gothics and pretending I know anything about what it’s like to live there.

Which led me to pick up The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson one night in the library.

It’s a dense, difficult book, but beautifully written with some of the most atmospheric language I’ve ever read. I was worried at first about some of the fantastical elements – I’m not really one for anything other than fictional realism – but somehow Davidson manages to include witches and fish-people without sounding like Tolkien or Rowling. The writing is adult, the content is adult, even when it’s unapologetically fantastical.

Even the gore is fairly tasteful and poetic. I’d definitely recommend looking up some content warnings before reading, but it’s nothing that’s going to keep me up at night.

What will keep me up at night are lines like this: “Her smile had the curl of a dying spider’s leg.” Or, “All fathers buried. all graves filled.” Or any of the long, indulgent passages of silent prose.

You get the idea.

Even with all the horrible events happening to the characters of the book, I almost wanted to rip open the pages and live in their haunted town because it was so immersive. I heard the cicadas buzz, felt soil underneath my fingernails. I smelled dirt, dank and rich.

The one thing I would’ve liked to be different was the lack of religious exploration. With one of the settings being a church, the main antagonist being a preacher, and two incredibly powerful witches, I expected more religious imagery (not to say that it’s not there, but it doesn’t pack the punch I expected). That said, this may be more of a personal preference than a real literary criticism.

Only grab The Boatman’s Daughter if you can do it the justice of a close read. If you can, I can’t recommend it enough.