Author: Katey Walter Anthony
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Summary: There were a few good bits of science and nature writing here, but they weren’t worth the slog through a disjointed religious memoir.
I decided to read this lake science book/memoir as a break from my women in media project and I have regrets. First off, this book was very poorly served by its marketing. The title and the cover picture focus only on the science, although the subtitle does tell you its also a memoir. The blurb compares it Lab Girl. Looking back, I feel like it was reasonable that I expected this to be about a 50/50 split between science and memoir. It was not. It was, at best, 25% about scientific expeditions, with very few in-depth explanations of the science. This is far more a memoir about the author finding her faith and a husband than about science, a type of book I most certainly would not have picked up on purpose.
The description of this book does tell you the memoir bit will include a focus on spirituality and faith. What it doesn’t make clear is how much that will be the focus, with the author including extensive quotes from the Bible. The author is also depressingly hard on herself, constantly claiming she needs to be more humble and persuading herself its selfish not to give up her dreams for her husband. Her husband, on the other hand, never gets mentioned without at least two positive adjectives. It’s painful to read.
I also thought the religious part of the memoir was poorly written. The author didn’t explain why she missed her faith when she was a lapsed Christian, why she returns to Christianity, or what makes religion work for her. A lot of the religious changes in her life feel like bolts from the blue. In one case, she literally believes god speaks to her. If this was fiction, I’d criticize it for poor character development. It just isn’t clear to me how she got from faith to disbelief to faith again. It is pretty clear that she could some therapy around her uncaring father and her parent’s divorce, but she doesn’t seem to have done the work to understand how that impacts her life and get into anything deep here.
Neither the religious stories nor the science stories are told chronologically or completely. Super cool science she’s done is mentioned as having happened in the past, but we never get the full story. She receives marriage proposals from two men and this is the first time she mentions either man in the whole book. Perhaps this disjointed referencing of stories we’ve not been told was corrected in the final copy (I had an ARC), but it would have required extensive work to fix.
There are some positives here. The science and the expeditions are fascinating. I loved hearing about the author’s efforts to deal with practical problems in her research. Her nature writing is beautiful, some of the best I’ve read for actually making me be able to imagine a scene. And… that’s all I’ve got. Clearly, I didn’t find this enough to be worth wading through the rest of this book. I do think this book has an audience. Many reviewers enjoyed the memoir more than the science, so I think its mostly the marketing that should be changed to help this find the right readers.