Water Witches

Water Witches

by Chris Bohjalian


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Patience Avery is a dowser—a “water witch.” Her natural gifts enable her to locate lost items, missing people, and aquifers deep within the earth. This last skill is more in demand than ever, as her home state of Vermont is in the grip of the worst drought in years. Patience knows better than most that this crisis is only the start.

Yet Patience’s opinion means little to her brother-in-law, Scottie Winston. Scottie’s spent the long, dry summer lobbying for permits to expand Powder Peak, a local ski area that’s his law firm’s biggest client. The resort is seeking to draw water for snowmaking from the Chittenden River, despite opposition from environmentalists who fear that the already weakened waterway will be damaged beyond repair. As the pressure mounts—from his wife and daughter on one side and a slew of powerful politicians and wealthy developers on the other—Scottie finds himself pushed closer and closer to a life-changing moral crisis.

One of bestselling author Chris Bohjalian’s earliest novels, Water Witches is a prescient environmentalist and political drama that’s even more relevant today than it was a quarter of a century ago.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593081785
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/30/2020
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 452,468
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the author of twenty-two books, including The Red Lotus; The Guest Room; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast; The Double Bind; and Midwives, which was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His novels Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers were made into movies, and The Flight Attendant is now in development for a limited series on HBO Max starring Kaley Cuoco. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He is also a playwright (Wingspan and Midwives). He lives in Vermont and can be found at chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, and Goodreads.


Lincoln, Vermont

Date of Birth:

August 12, 1961

Place of Birth:

White Plains, New York


Amherst College

What People are Saying About This

Cathie Pelletier

“A bewitching tale from New England by a writer with a generous heart for his subjects, and respect for a landscape he clearly loves. Chris Bohjalian's voice is as steady and sure as Vermont rain.”

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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