Review: They Drown Our Daughters by Katrina Monroe

cover of They Drown Our DaughtersThey Drown Our Daughters by Katrina Monroe
Poisoned Pen Press (July 2022)
384 pages; $15.29 paperback; $6.49 e-book
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

In a perfect world, mothers are kind, gentle beings who protect their children at all costs. The catch, however, is that a mother must be selfless and nurturing in every role — an inevitability doomed expectation.

In Katrina Monroe’s They Drown Our Daughters, the prologue in the 1800s sets the stage for a mother’s fierce fortitude in the wake of familial turmoil. But, things turn for the worse, and an unexpected, somewhat accidental tragedy unleashes the curse that haunts five generations of women.

Belonging to the line of “troubled mothers” and traumatized daughters, the modern-day protagonist, Meredith, returns to Cape Disappointment, a beachside town known for its alleged ghosts, strange disappearances, and suicides, all under the watchful eye of the lighthouse.

Meredith’s mother suffers from the early stages of Alzheimer’s and ripples with paranoia concerning the demons of the sea. When Meredith’s daughter, Alice, seems to hear the call of the water, the emotional distance between Meredith and her mother only intensifies. At this stage of the book, I found Meredith’s mother domineering, inflicting her irrational fears on her daughter and grandchild. Monroe executed this brilliantly.

They Drown Our Daughters is written from multiple points of view, including Meredith’s mother, Judith. In her, the theme of motherhood shines in all its bloody multi-layers of horror. Judith symbolizes the complexity of motherhood, the depth far beyond nurture, and society’s ideation of a mother’s love. In an intense, eerie scene, Judith shows readers that growing a human being inside your body can feel alien, supernatural, and gory as hell. Monroe crafts a harrowing realization of how motherhood seems to bring life and death frighteningly close. And in doing so, a mother’s choices and seeming irrationality in the aftermath aren’t as black and white as one might believe.

Many of the other mothers in the novel illustrate grief’s self-destructive role in motherhood. The careful execution of the theme of motherhood makes Monroe’s characters feel as dynamic as that of a Mike Flanagan Netflix series or an original gothic tale by the queen of horror herself, Shirley Jackson.

Three-quarters through the book, I did find myself wishing the cursed women called upon by the sea received more page time. But that’s truly my only complaint with They Drown Our Daughters. 

Characters’ intentions are questionable and, many times, make them unlikeable. But if that doesn’t scream the foundational elements of gothic horror — psychological rabbit hole and question of belief — I don’t know what does.

They Drown Our Daughters by Katrina Monroe is a read not to be missed for fans of director Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

A standout in gothic horror of 2022.

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