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Book Review: 'Girl on the Train' author Paula Hawkins crafts beautiful but meandering second novel in 'Into the Water'

Posted May 13

"INTO THE WATER," by Paula Hawkins, $28, 400 pages (f)

There’s no coasting through Paula Hawkins’ new thriller “Into the Water.”

Hawkins, whose debut novel “The Girl on the Train” earned an ocean’s worth of attention, including being made into a blockbuster film, weaves a second tale that twists and turns like a river, taking readers on a voyage that starts one direction and abruptly swerves to another.

Hawkins has used her time well in the two years since "Girl on the Train" came out — she's learned to be a writer as well as a storyteller. In fact, the most surprising twist of "Into the Water" may be that it's beautifully written. Hawkins has retained her gift for crafting suspenseful tales, but she's learned how to do it in an interesting, even graceful, way.

"Into the Water's" story focuses initially on Julia Abbott, whose sister Nel recently committed suicide and drowned in a river called — appropriately, readers discover — the Drowning Pool. Nel was not its only victim. With Nel gone, Julia must care for her sister's teenage daughter, who holds secrets about her mother’s death.

But the Abbotts' story is just one drop of water in the story's swiftly moving current, as Hawkins brings in several characters who are connected to other Drowning Pool deaths.

Too many characters slow down — dare we say drown? — the book’s first half. It’s difficult to know which characters to focus on, which flow Hawkins wants readers to follow. Readers are also thrown back and forth between timelines, making it hard to connect with one specific character.

Neither does the novel, which is close to 400 pages, spend enough time upfront developing the many characters’ viewpoints. Readers are dropped into the deep end of multiple storylines, and it’s not until the final 150 pages that they finally gain some sense of stability as the novel reaches its climactic moments.

But again, the writing is beautiful. And when Hawkins finally starts to weave her many story threads together, readers will be hooked. The challenge for most readers will be to stay focused in the early chapters, since so many are just a snippet, sometimes barely two pages. But if readers don't pay attention in the first half of the book, like the characters inside the pages, one (attention) slip could spell doom — or, at least, confusion.

The ending also connects everything together really well. The characters all meet up at a central location and secrets begin to be unveiled, allowing readers to easily follow the mystery reveals and plot twists. Quick chapters allow it all to come together smoothly.

Many of the book's problems easily could have been solved with a list of characters, a section where readers could check the guest list, so to speak, along the way. When the story finally gets going midway through the book, being able to easily chart the characters and their relationships would allow readers to focus completely on the story.

Still, “Into the Water” is an elegantly written tale that grips readers like a mighty current, guiding and taking them downriver toward the inevitable rocky ending and breathtaking plot twist in the novel’s final pages.

Content advisory: “Into the Water” contains references to and depictions of rape and sexual assault. It also contains mature language, physical violence and discussion of suicide, drowning and hanging. It references witchcraft, astrology and the afterlife.

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