The Water Dancers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In The Water Dancers, Rachel Winnapee, a young Odawa, lives on Horseshoe Lake in Michigan in 1946; but the lake might be sold, and the Odawa left homeless. When her grandmother dies, Rachel is sent to a convent on Lake Michigan to work for a local family, the Marches. The Marches’ son Woody comes home injured from the war, and although engaged to another, he becomes involved with Rachel. When she becomes pregnant, the convent sisters send her away.

Ten years later, a childhood friend finds Rachel and her son Ben, brings them back to Horseshoe Lake, and hires Rachel to help in his new store, which is near the Marches. Woody, now married with a son, Rory, discovers that Rachel is back, and begins to take Rachel and Ben sailing. Unable to reconcile his double life, Woody dies swimming, and Rachel goes to Mrs. March and promises to never tell about Woody and Ben for twenty thousand dollars, enough for the Odawa to buy Horseshoe Lake.

Fourteen years later, Ben returns from Vietnam, and finds the Marches’ old boat. He gets permission from Mrs. March to sail it if he will take Rory out with him, and the two grandsons finally bond.

Rachel is still and patient, and the story is told through her eyes without comment. With this careful and inviting narrative, and a powerful use of earthy symbols and Odawa philosophy, this is a rich and satisfying journey.