Water Witches

( 8 )

Overview

Vermont is drying up. The normally lush, green countryside is in the grip of the worst drought in years: stunted cornstalks rasp in the hot July breeze, parched vegetable gardens wither and die, the Chittenden River shrinks to a trickle, and the drilling trucks are booked solid as one by one the wells give out. Patience Avery, known nationwide as a gifted "water witch," is having a busy summer, too. Using the tools of the dowser's trade - divining sticks, metal rods, bobbers, and pendulums - she can locate, among...
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Water Witches: A Novel

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Overview

Vermont is drying up. The normally lush, green countryside is in the grip of the worst drought in years: stunted cornstalks rasp in the hot July breeze, parched vegetable gardens wither and die, the Chittenden River shrinks to a trickle, and the drilling trucks are booked solid as one by one the wells give out. Patience Avery, known nationwide as a gifted "water witch," is having a busy summer, too. Using the tools of the dowser's trade - divining sticks, metal rods, bobbers, and pendulums - she can locate, among other things, aquifers deep within the earth. In the midst of this crisis, Scottie Winston lobbies for permits to expand Powder Peak, a local ski area that's his law firm's principal client. As part of the expansion, the resort seeks to draw water for snowmaking from the beleaguered Chittenden, despite opposition from environmentalists who fear that the already weakened river will be damaged beyond repair.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a moving, life-affirming novel suffused with ecological wisdom, a Vermont ski resort's plans for expansion collide with environmentalists seeking to preserve a mountainous wildlife habitat and riverine ecosystem. Narrator Scott Winston, a transplanted New York City lawyer who represents the ski resort, switches allegiance after he and his nine-year-old daughter spot three mountain lions in an area targeted for clearing. Complicating matters is the envy that Scott's pragmatic wife, Laura, a native Vermonter, feels toward her famed sister, Patience Avery, a dowser (water witch) who also opposes the ski resort and whose talent for locating underground springs, missing persons or lost objects with a divining rod figures prominently in the novel's denouement. The struggle between the developers and their opponents culminates in an environmental board hearing that has all the dramatic excitement of a courtroom trial. With wit, insight and mordant irony, Bohjalian (Past the Bleachers) charts Scott's metamorphosis from rationalistic materialist and skeptic to one who believes in higher powers and the interconnectedness of all life. In a refreshing twist, instead of offering a bucolic idyll, the author takes us through a Vermont beset by drought, a declining ski industry, unemployment and endangered ecosystems. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Ecologically devastating oil spills, electromagnetic radiation, vegetarian Not Dogs-all the "green" issues of the day are present and accounted for in this topical offering from the author of the much-praised baseball novel Past the Bleachers (LJ 5/1/92), which is set, fittingly, in the Green Mountain country of Vermont. With the cards so stacked against him, it's a measure of Bohjalian's talent that rather than giving us mere personifications of Big Ideas, he's able to create fully realized characters we can care about-like his protagonist, a small-town lawyer who faces a crisis of conscience when he finds himself caught up in the familiar conflict between Jobs (in this case, the ski industry) and The Environment. The extensive dowsing lore that runs through the narrative like an underground stream is a bonus delight. Recommended for public libraries.-David Sowd, formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib., Canton, Ohio
From the Publisher
"I was charmed by the mixture of country lore and planning boards, New Age witches and old-fashioned family duties, and I was glad that I read on to the novel's appealing conclusion, drenched as it is with abiding devotion and love. For anyone interested in the way we live with the land, on the land today, this novel makes for a thoughtul evening or two of entertaining reading." —Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Chris Bohjalian

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is author of the bestselling novel Midwives, as well as Trans-sister Radio. The Law of Similars, Past the Bleachers, Hangman, and A Killing in the Real World, in addition to numerous articles and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Reader's Digest, and Vermont Life. Past the Bleachers was filmed as a television movie by Hallmark.

Biography

It was March 1986 when Chris Bohjalian made a decision that would have an incalculable impact on his writing. He and his wife had just hailed a taxi home to Brooklyn after a party in Manhattan's East Village when they suddenly found themselves on a wild and terrifying 45-minute ride. The crazed cabbie, speeding through red lights and ignoring stop signs, ultimately dropped the shaken couple off... in front of a crack house being stormed by the police. It was then that Bohjalian and his wife decided that the time had come to flee the city for pastoral Vermont. This incident and the couple's subsequent move to New England not only inspired a series of columns titled "Idyll Banter" (later compiled into a book of the same name), but a string of books that would cause Bohjalian to be hailed as one of the most humane, original, and beloved writers of his time.

While Bohjalian's Manhattan murder mystery A Killing in the Real World was a somewhat quiet debut, follow-up novels (many of which are set in his adopted state) have established him as a writer to watch. A stickler for research, he fills his plotlines with rich, historically accurate details. But he never loses sight of what really draws readers into a story: multi-dimensional characters they can relate to.

The selection of his 1997 novel Midwives for Oprah's Book Club established Bohjalian as a force to be reckoned with, igniting a string of critically acclaimed crowd pleasers. His literary thriller The Double Bind was a Barnes & Noble Recommends pick in 2007.

Good To Know

Bohjalian's fascination with the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald extends beyond the author's prominent influence on The Double Bind. In an interview with Loaded Shelf.com, Bohjalian estimated that he owns "at least 42 different editions of books by or about F. Scott Fitzgerald."

. Two of Chris Bojalian's novels have been adapted into critically acclaimed TV movies. An adaptation of Past the Bleachers with Richard Dean Anderson was made in 1995, and a version of Midwives starring Sissy Spacek and Peter Coyote debuted in 2001.

In our interview with Bohjalian, he shared some fascinating and fun facts about himself:

"I was the heaviest child, by far, in my second-grade class. My mother had to buy my pants for me at a store called the "Husky Boys Shop," and still she had to hem the cuffs up around my knees. I hope this experience, traumatizing as it was, made me at least marginally more sensitive to people around me."

"I have a friend with Down syndrome, a teenage boy who is capable of remembering the librettos from entire musicals the first or second time he hears them. The two of us belt them out together whenever we're driving anywhere in a car.

"I am a pretty avid bicyclist. The other day I was biking alone on a thin path in the woods near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, and suddenly before me I saw three bears. At first I saw only two, and initially I thought they were cats. Then I thought they were dogs. Finally, just as I was approaching them and they started to scurry off the path and into the thick brush, I understood they were bears. Bear cubs, to be precise. Which is exactly when their mother, no more than five or six feet to my left, reared up on her hind legs, her very furry paws and very sharp claws raised above her head in a gesture that an optimist might consider a wave and guy on a bike might consider something a tad more threatening. Because she was standing on a slight incline, I was eye level with her stomach -- an eventual destination that seemed frighteningly plausible. I have never biked so fast in my life in the woods. I may never have biked so fast in my life on a paved road."

"I do have hobbies -- I garden and bike, for example -- but there's nothing in the world that gives me even a fraction of the pleasure that I derive from hanging around with my wife and daughter."

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    1. Hometown:
      Lincoln, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 12, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      White Plains, New York
    1. Education:
      Amherst College
    2. Website:

Introduction

Reading Group Guide

1. Chris Bohjalian's novel Water Witches explores the phenomenon of "dowsing" which is described as the practice of "divining underground water with a stick" (page 3). Within the dowsing community there are those who believe anyone can dowse and those, like Patience Avery, who insist "that only select people have the power" (page 7). With whom do you agree? Would you liken it to a spiritual art or a form of witchcraft?

2. The narrator, Scottie Winston, a slick, powerful lawyer who lobbies on behalf of Powder Peak Ski Resort, also considers himself an environmentalist. However, compared to Senator Reedy McClure, Patience's groom-to-be, he states: "I am reasonable and Reddy McClure is a fanatic" (page 22). What are your first impressions of Scottie Winston? Does your opinion of him change as the novel draws to a close?

3. Comparing his wife, Laura, with her sister, Patience, Scottie explains that Laura has been the "normal" and "traditional" one while Patience "has been the center of attention" (page 106). Discuss the relationship between Laura and Patience. In what ways is jealousy a factor?

4. Patience Avery is described as an eccentric, opinionated, yet talented, woman. When Scottie is first introduced to Patience she tells him that men "have great potential to become grotesque" (page 5). What do you suppose she means by that statement? Why do you think she is so antagonistic toward men?

5. Scottie admits that when he and his wife decided to live in Vermont, "I chose simply to work for the law firm that made me the most lucrative offer. It was not, to my mind, a political decision" (page 70). How doesScottie's job, representing Powder Peak, eventually become political? Do you think he feels guilty for representing the ski resort?

6. Discuss the narrator's internal conflict regarding the environmental harm that will come as a result of Powder Peak's expansion. In what ways does Scottie justify the expansion to himself and others? Would you side with Powder Peak or the Copper Project?

7. After he and his daughter, Miranda, see the catamounts on Mount Republic Scottie can no longer advocate the resort's expansion plans. Furthermore, he can no longer act as a seemingly neutral player. What forces him to take sides? Speculate on what Scottie might have done had he seen the catamounts alone. Considering the financial repercussions, what might you have done?

8. Miranda, like her mother and her aunt Patience, has also inherited the Avery dowsing gene. Patience, who acts as Miranda's dowsing mentor fears that Scottie and Laura may stifle Miranda's talent. She tells Laura that "Your daughter's gift makes mine look like a dime store ruby" (page 58). What would you do as Miranda's parents? Would you allow Miranda to explore and develop her talent?

9. Regarding the fact that there are more male dowsers than female ones, Patience maintains that it yet another example of how men have "usurped control of yet one more God-given female talent" (page 49). Do you agree with Patience? Are certain professions naturally more suited to women? To men?

10. Vermont's drought has a profound affect on Miranda who is extremely sensitive and empathetic to the natural surroundings. Referring to her Aunt Patience and the legendary dowser, Elias Gray, she laments: "I wish they could find water in the sky as easily as they find it underground" (page 103). Does her wish come true? Discuss the scene that takes place at the Chittenden River after Patience and Reedy's wedding ceremony.

11. Part Three, the novel's finale, is written in Miranda's voice. Why do you suppose the author chooses to end with Miranda's postscript? What does the reader learn from Miranda that would have been impossible to learn from the narrator? Was it a satisfying ending for you? Why or why not?

Chris Bohjalian is the author of six other novels, including the number-one bestseller Midwives, The Law of Similars, and Trans-Sister Radio. He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

1. Chris Bohjalian's novel Water Witches explores the phenomenon of "dowsing" which is described as the practice of "divining underground water with a stick" (page 3). Within the dowsing community there are those who believe anyone can dowse and those, like Patience Avery, who insist "that only select people have the power" (page 7). With whom do you agree? Would you liken it to a spiritual art or a form of witchcraft?

2. The narrator, Scottie Winston, a slick, powerful lawyer who lobbies on behalf of Powder Peak Ski Resort, also considers himself an environmentalist. However, compared to Senator Reedy McClure, Patience's groom-to-be, he states: "I am reasonable and Reddy McClure is a fanatic" (page 22). What are your first impressions of Scottie Winston? Does your opinion of him change as the novel draws to a close?

3. Comparing his wife, Laura, with her sister, Patience, Scottie explains that Laura has been the "normal" and "traditional" one while Patience "has been the center of attention" (page 106). Discuss the relationship between Laura and Patience. In what ways is jealousy a factor?

4. Patience Avery is described as an eccentric, opinionated, yet talented, woman. When Scottie is first introduced to Patience she tells him that men "have great potential to become grotesque" (page 5). What do you suppose she means by that statement? Why do you think she is so antagonistic toward men?

5. Scottie admits that when he and his wife decided to live in Vermont, "I chose simply to work for the law firm that made me the most lucrative offer. It was not, to my mind, a political decision" (page 70). How does Scottie's job, representing Powder Peak, eventually become political? Do you think he feels guilty for representing the ski resort?

6. Discuss the narrator's internal conflict regarding the environmental harm that will come as a result of Powder Peak's expansion. In what ways does Scottie justify the expansion to himself and others? Would you side with Powder Peak or the Copper Project?

7. After he and his daughter, Miranda, see the catamounts on Mount Republic Scottie can no longer advocate the resort's expansion plans. Furthermore, he can no longer act as a seemingly neutral player. What forces him to take sides? Speculate on what Scottie might have done had he seen the catamounts alone. Considering the financial repercussions, what might you have done?

8. Miranda, like her mother and her aunt Patience, has also inherited the Avery dowsing gene. Patience, who acts as Miranda's dowsing mentor fears that Scottie and Laura may stifle Miranda's talent. She tells Laura that "Your daughter's gift makes mine look like a dime store ruby" (page 58). What would you do as Miranda's parents? Would you allow Miranda to explore and develop her talent?

9. Regarding the fact that there are more male dowsers than female ones, Patience maintains that it yet another example of how men have "usurped control of yet one more God-given female talent" (page 49). Do you agree with Patience? Are certain professions naturally more suited to women? To men?

10. Vermont's drought has a profound affect on Miranda who is extremely sensitive and empathetic to the natural surroundings. Referring to her Aunt Patience and the legendary dowser, Elias Gray, she laments: "I wish they could find water in the sky as easily as they find it underground" (page 103). Does her wish come true? Discuss the scene that takes place at the Chittenden River after Patience and Reedy's wedding ceremony.

11. Part Three, the novel's finale, is written in Miranda's voice. Why do you suppose the author chooses to end with Miranda's postscript? What does the reader learn from Miranda that would have been impossible to learn from the narrator? Was it a satisfying ending for you? Why or why not?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2010

    Very enjoyable read

    A different kind of read for me, but found it to be engaging, with characters you wanted to know better.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2002

    Long

    wow! Disappointing. A long and tedious read. The title is great (and misleading), I wish the book had been about dowsing, but I found it to be more about local beaurocracy.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2002

    Amazing book, unique too

    I really enjoyed this book, as I do all of bohjalian's. what's cool, is that I learn about something from all of them--dowsing, homeopathy, transexuals, midwivery...and the stories he uses to tell us about these things are all so interesting. You can't put the book down. I just discovered this author a few months back, and now have read everything he has written. I reccomend them all. I thought this book was pretty easy to 'get into' It was a little hard to remember who everyone was. But I found the characters interesting & likable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2001

    Slow

    I thought it was slow and a little boring. I kept waiting for the action to happen. Little character development. I wanted to know more dowsing.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2008

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    Posted February 24, 2010

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    Posted October 27, 2008

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    Posted February 14, 2011

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    Posted January 4, 2011

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