Published by This Is Horror
Josh is a guy who lives that semi-pro rocker kind of life, making a decent enough living with his bandmates performing cover gigs and the occasional showing of their own original material at various pubs, clubs and events around the UK. Being accustomed to a lifestyle of boozy excess and sleazy sex with groupies and impressionable young women, he finds himself caught in an emotional quandary when a beautiful and mysterious girl catches his eye amongst the adoring crowd.
In his quest to learn more about the girl and, hopefully, get her into bed, Josh sets about clumsily attempting to woo her. Turns out her name is Genna, and she’s a big fan of Josh’s songwriting – especially those with lyrics related to the sea.
As they get to know each other a little better, Josh quickly finds himself falling head over heels for her. As he enters further into her life, however, he learns of her obsession with mermaids – and it isn’t just a devoted interest, either. She genuinely wants to become one, and as her actions move consistently closer to the possibility of real physical harm to herself, Josh’s early intentions are washed away by an overriding, yet occasionally misguided, quest to save the girl he loves from herself.
Haunting in its plausibility, Cluley’s Water for Drowning wraps a sombre, melancholy core with the less considered narration of its protagonist. Josh isn’t the most particularly likable guy, but Cluley brings him to life with precision, his internal dialogue flowing, reflective, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. The change that Genna kick-starts in him is palpable and rings emotionally true as he evolves over the course of the tale – his confusion, desperation and determination to get things right feel natural in their progression in such a way that the blossoming love between the two also feels organic, never forced for the purposes of the author. In this way, Cluley takes the reader into Josh’s shoes when it comes to the presentation of Genna, creating the character of a young girl whom we, too, wish to see ‘saved’, and a relationship that we want to have a bright ending for both.
But this is a darker tale, and as in real life wishes and best intentions are seldom enough to overturn determined courses of self-destruction. What seems a relatively absurd premise early on takes on a much more socially profound and disturbing impact when the heartbreaking origin, and goal, of Genna’s ultimate desire is revealed – a moment that immediately traps the gut with doubt as to whether there is truly any hope for her and Josh, but which also makes an astute observation on the potential consequences rendered by careless words, however well-meaning, in the ear of those damaged, desperate and impressionable.
As an author, Cluley truly has a talent for blending elements of the fantastic with confident real-world social observation, and while the fantasy may be just apparent in the distant background here, his knack for such a combination is openly on show with aplomb. An exceptionally worthy read, Water for Drowning will immerse you in a sea of inescapable, personal darkness.
This Is Horror’s chapbook release of Water for Drowning also includes a quick interview by the author, which gives a brief insight into the genesis of the story but also includes the full text of his British Fantasy Award-winning short story ‘Shark! Shark!’ And it’s very easy indeed to see why it won such an award! Fast-paced, frequently hilarious and, let’s face it, just plain brilliant, ‘Shark! Shark!’ tells the story of a film about the making of a film whose directors are determined to create the next great shark attack movie. The shoot gets off to a rocky start, though, when the two lead players are found gruesomely mutilated in a motel room – the only piece of evidence found being a shark’s tooth. Where the story ultimately goes is wondrously over-the-top B-movie creature-feature territory that Roger Corman would truly approve of, but it’s all made such a great read by tone and narration that turn the pages into the equivalent of the hasty babblings of a coked-up Hollywood producer trying to sell you on a pitch for his latest low-budget masterwork, taking special relish in revealing all of the points where he tricked you with foreshadowing. Great, great stuff.
5 out of 5