Steven Sherrill
Visits from the Drowned Girl

By Jarad Zimbler

Benny Poteat is a watcher. He watches from the sidelines, through car windows, from the safety of his house – but mostly Benny watches from the tall metal towers on which he works when one day he sees a young woman walk into the big toe river and drown herself, and a new kind of watching begins.

Having discovered the camera she used to video her final act and a collection of video tapes that document her recent history, Benny buys a VCR and slowly uncovers the woman's past and the various events leading to her death.

Visits from the Drowned Girl, Steven Sherrill's second novel, is billed as a book about the destructive capacity of secrets, but it seems equally concerned with the act of watching – and, more specifically, with its passive nature.

As his voyeuristic desires mount, Benny watches more and more and does less and less, failing to take action even when those close to him are threatened. His fascination with the visually exciting overwhelms his seeming good nature – making him a constant spectator to the various and increasingly horrible events which unfold before him, both on his television screen and in his life.

The novel has much to say about our current fascination with reality TV and celebrity culture, and what effect this fascination has on our various societies. Sherrill handles these ideas well, though they're hardly earth-shattering, and his flair for passages of great descriptive beauty is as evident in this novel as it was in his first – the much acclaimed The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break.

The unwatched videos prove an effective plot mechanism, impelling the novel forward with some pace, though perhaps not always with enough subtlety, and the duplex-trailer park setting is interesting and unfamiliar. If there is a single criticism, it is that Sherrill's characters are somewhat roughly sketched. At times, they lack sufficient depth for the reader to really engage with the book or care about what it says.

Visits from the Drowned Girl is probably not a great novel, and in some respects it fails to live up to the promise of Sherrill's first. But, overall, it is a good one, and well worth the read.
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