Water Witches

By Chris Bohjalian

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Simon & Schuster, c1995, 1997

Genre: General fiction, eco-fiction

Series: Hardscrabble Books –fiction of New England published by University Press of New England

ISBN: 9780684826127

Intended audience: Adult

Number of pages: 340

Setting: Central Vermont

Time period: mid 1990s

Plot summary: Scott Winston works as a lawyer for the ski industry in rural Vermont.  He is also a member of a family of dowsers – or water witches – (by marriage), who have lived in the area for generations.  When a severe drought hits Vermont as a ski resort is trying to expand, Scottie finds himself at the center of an environmental conflict framed as jobs vs. the environment.  This would not be a new situation for him except that he and his nine year old daughter, Miranda, have witnessed something so rare that it completely changes his perspective on life.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Most of the chapters are short and have plenty of breaks between scenes which propel parts of this story quite quickly; in spite of this, I found this book to be a slower read for me.  

Characterization: The story is told in first person by Scottie.  The most important secondary characters are members of Scott’s family: his wife – Laura, his sister-in-law – Patience, and his daughter – Miranda.

Frame: “Some people say that my wife’s sister is a witch” (p. 3).  The story opens with Scott describing his sister-in-law, an active dowser who makes her living by finding what people ask her to seek (usually water).  Multiple dichotomies frame this story: magic and science, male and female, conservation and progress.

Story line: An uplifting and heartwarming story with as many twists and turns as the labyrinth planned by one of Patience’s friends for her wedding.

Subject headings:

From PCPL:

Vermont — Fiction.

Dowsers — Fiction

Lawyers — Vermont — Fiction

Ski resorts — Vermont — Fiction

Environmental protection — Vermont – Fiction

Similar authors: Alice Hoffman, Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve

Personal notes: I really enjoyed this story even though it was a slower read for me.  I thought the characters were well developed and very believable, especially Scottie.  I really enjoyed the ending, since it caught me a bit off guard.

Other (themes, diversity): Diversity – dowsers

American Society of Dowsers website

What You Need to Know About… Dowsing webpage

The Skeptic’s Dictionary take on dowsing

Chris Bohjalian’s website

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