Drowned Town by Jayne Moore Waldrop

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 Drowned Town
 Jayne Moore Waldrop
 University Press of Kentucky 
 October 2021
 ISBN: 9781950564156
 272 pages
 HC: $24.95
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Drowned Town is a book exploring themes of loss and place through the story of two best friends and their connections to the people around them. The history of Cam and Margaret’s friendship is told by a series of braided stories anchored in the Western Kentucky lakes created by the damming of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Cam is a native of the area and Margaret is a wealthy lawyer raised in Louisville who become friends in college. Waldrop follows the two over several decades, from Cam’s family and entire community being forced from their homes by eminent domain as a national recreational area was developed, to the death of Margaret’s husband. Interspersed throughout their narrative are snippets of the lives of others impacted by the impoundment. Readers get a glimpse into the life of Lester, a prisoner serving a life sentence in the state penitentiary overlooking the lake and the area where Cam’s neighborhood once stood. The story of Elmer, a real estate appraiser who is able to support his family because of the project, is also woven throughout. Through his eyes, readers feel the pain experienced by those whose lives were uprooted to create the lakes.

            The character appearing in every chapter is the lake itself. Always present and always watching, the lake is there for funerals, weddings, family vacations, and painful conversations. The lake is the backdrop for the story but also a guiding force for the people shaped by its rising waters in both positive and negative ways. Using the lake, Waldrop shows the nuance of the situation from an objective point of view. The lake that upset the lives of so many was also there to heal their pain.

            Part friendship narrative, part romance novel, Drowned Town is a masterfully crafted book showing how the same place can be the origin for both loss and restoration.

Dr. Beth Nardella is an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at West Virginia University. She has been teaching discipline-specific science writing for over fifteen years in the Division of Exercise Physiology. Her research focuses on power and resistance dynamics in Appalachia. Her most recent project investigated why people stay in West Virginia. Beth’s passion in teaching is study abroad. Through her role as Director of Global Education and Service Learning for the Department of Human Performance, she has taken students to Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, and Jamaica on programs involving community-driven service and engagement. She also facilitates trips to communities in Southern West Virginia to foster student understanding of local-global dynamics. She serves on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees in the Health Sciences Center.