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Water is Wider
A young girl runs away from home, searching for the father who abandoned the family. A middle-aged woman, who has never ventured outside the confines of living with her mother and working at a small printing company, finds her small world shattering. Her mother dies, the company falls on hard financial times, and she faces the distinct possibility of losing her home. Water is Wider tells the story of how these two lives intersect, and how bonds between strangers can sometimes grow stronger than bloodlines.
In McKeon’s thoughtful but sometimes implausible second novel (after A Balm in Gilead), a runaway in search of her missing father forms a tight bond with a meek middle-aged woman whose life is slowly imploding. Though the two don’t meet until nearly halfway through, their stories move in restless tandem until Sidney O’Neill discovers 11-year-old Phoebe Locke hiding in her suburban Pennsylvania home. Sidney, a proofreader and self-described spinster, is stuck in a rut; she wears ill-fitting 20-year-old pants and eats lunch with women she doesn’t like. Her mother, Agatha, called all the shots, and after Agatha dies, her voice remains in Sidney’s head. Cowed even by young Phoebe, Sidney decides to let the girl stay with her. Meanwhile, Phoebe’s stepmother, Adele, is shaken by fear and self-recrimination over Phoebe’s absence.

McKeon creates strong empathy for Phoebe, Sidney, and Adele, powerfully exploring mother-daughter dynamics at varying stages of life. The characters aren’t entirely believable, though: Phoebe is preternaturally quick on her feet, while Sidney hasn’t noticed that pay phones have all but disappeared. Sidney’s behavior with J.T., her increasingly paranoid and disturbed colleague at the failing Poppy Press, exhibits such poor judgment as to fail the credibility test. McKeon provides some backstory for J.T.’s downward mental spiral and rants about the IRS and terrorists, but that doesn’t explain why Sidney finds him “mesmerizing” and is willing to tolerate his uninvited, unwanted intrusions into her life even after realizing he might be genuinely dangerous.

Some of the story’s pivotal moments hinge on obvious contrivances: Sidney’s decision not to call Adele and send Phoebe home, Adele’s unwillingness to tell Phoebe why her father abandoned the family, and the menacing reappearance after 50 years of Sidney’s father. These flaws aren’t fatal, but they reduce the story’s emotional impact. McKeon’s novel is at its strongest when it puts chosen and blood families under the microscope.

Takeaway: This exploration of mother-daughter relationships, biological and otherwise, will resonate with readers of women’s fiction.

Great for fans of Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, Luanne Rice.

Production grades
Cover: C+
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B