Trouble the Water
Wendy Vogel
JournalStone (August 9, 2022)
Review by Elaine Pascale

Trouble the Water is being marketed as Contemporary Southern Gothic. While it contains a ghost, the real fear in the story is attributable to the repression and hate associated with fundamentalist culture. We are introduced to Naomi, a recent widow, who must return home for financial reasons. Accompanying Naomi is her daughter who is a child with a disability. We learn that Naomi was raised in the “The Covenent of Jesus’ Cleansing Waters,” where there is no privacy, no individuality, no independent thought. As a child, Naomi had no door on her room as “closed doors keep people apart,” and she was forced to spend time in a prayer closet that was more like a torture chamber.

Naomi is haunted by her past and her inability to fit in and “be normal” due to years of social isolation. She is also literally haunted by the ghost of “Weebla,” a faceless child who seems to want Naomi’s attention. The ghost is the embodiment of the memories that Naomi is trying to suppress, and she is also a major clue into the family’s dark history.

Trouble the Water could be categorized as a mystery-thriller. Young girls with disabilities are being abducted. Their bodies are found with evidence of sexual assault. The girls attend the same school that Naomi’s daughter attends, and Naomi imagines that it is only a matter of time before her daughter becomes a target of the killer.

There are many relatable themes threading through Vogel’s novel. The tension between family responsibility versus self-care underscores nearly every decision Naomi makes. The appeal of fundamentalism for those who live in fear is clearly outlined. The complicated relationship that those with disabilities have with their environment and culture is carefully addressed.

Trouble the Water is an engaging read, but one that should come with a trigger warning. There are descriptions of child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, and financial abuse. There is also a subplot that deals with homophobia and hate crimes. All of the above are handled with great care and empathy for the survivors/victims. They are woven into the story to shine a light on how dangerous fanaticism is, especially when presented under the guise of “goodness.”

I enjoyed Trouble the Water as it incorporated elements of mystery and horror but placed them in a very realistic context. I appreciated the choices Vogel made with Naomi’s character. While Naomi is a victim, she is not innocent. I was able to retain sympathy for Naomi even when it was clear that she had made some poor ethical decisions. It was refreshing to read a book that so openly confirmed the life-long ramifications of purity culture. For those who enjoy psychological thrillers and mysteries, Trouble the Water should be included on a must-read list.

About Elaine Pascale

Elaine Pascale had been writing her entire life. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband, son and daughter. Her writing has been published in several magazines and anthologies. She is the author of Blood Lights, and If Nothing Else, Eve, We’ve Enjoyed the Fruit. Elaine enjoys a robust full moon, chocolate, and collecting cats.