DROWNING PRACTICE – Mike Meginnis (2022)

Drowning Practice Mike MeginnisAn important part of reading is reading about reading, and so I bought this book because of a glowing review on Speculiction. Drowning Practice is part slipstream, part immediate future doom, part satire & part psychological study.

The novel’s premise would be ideal for a movie or tv-series. Everybody on the planet dreams the same thing in the same night: in a few months there will be a flood and everybody will drown. Most people take their dream for truth, and Mike Meginnis examines what would happen to our society when most expect imminent demise. He does that by zooming in on three broken characters: an addicted, anxious novelist, her 13-year old daughter and the girl’s father, a controlling government spy/hippie.

Meginnis started writing the book out of a frustration with existing apocalyptic stories, and I have to say he did succeed in writing something that is both compelling and completely non-generic – unlike the first episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, to name just one thing.

There are many ingredients that make Drowning Practice a succes.

Biggest draw are the characters. Lyd, Mott and David are realistic and recognizable, even though they have severe personal issues. Meginnis’ main focus is on how certain people try to dominate others emotionally: both the mother and the father are quite cunning on that front. I’d go as far and say the book is connected to Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, in the sense that this book too is a thinly disguised story about mental problems, resulting in a similar eerie atmosphere. It didn’t surprise me when I read in an interview that Meginnis has suffered from a deep depression – like Jackson.

Meginnis makes this aspect of psychological horror something that is both timeless and very much about our time, like when he has a character parrot discourse about personal growth, exposing a culture high on its own catchphrases & meritocratic therapeutic delusions.

I also felt a connection to the work of visual artist Paul McCarthy, as Meginnis has his characters move inside a social landscape of decay, dysfunction and a certain form of timid excess. I use the adjective ‘timid’ here because Meginnis never outdoes it, striking a difficult balance between certain satirical elements and realism, and between genre stuff and originality. McCarthy’s video work comes to mind because he also exposes – admittedly much more explicitly – dark undercurrents in American society.

Because of precise character development and balanced world building, the emotions Meginnis writes about get ample room to thrive. Drowning Practice indeed is a story about a mother and a daughter, a perspective rarely seen in apocalyptic fiction, which so often relies on masculinity. Another reference could be Dexter Palmer’s Version Control – which is also about parents and the times we live in.

At first I was bothered by the meta-aspect of the novel: a writer writing books about writers writing books seems like somebody flogging a dead horse. But I have to admit Meginnis pulls it off – probably because he resents the trope himself too. It’s undeniable writing is a real drive for some people. There’s tons of people that feel the need to create, just for themselves, even if the world would end. It also adds an interesting dynamic between the mother and the daughter: one a once successful author gone cynical, the other an aspiring one, giving rise to a fresh iteration of the tried and tested theme of parental projection. And finally, it allows Meginnis to play a bit with an idea that maybe would not work as a fully fleshed out novel, but works very much as a sketch of one, an idea that adds even more depth to this particular mother-daughter relationship.

Mike Meginnis’ second book is not a full on masterpiece – even if I can’t really put my finger on why I hesitate dubbing it that way. It’s for novels like this Goodreads should allow half stars. As it is, I’ll give it 5 stars there. On this here blog, at the end of this here review, it is a 4.5 – no mean feat at all. Drowning Practice is a cleverly constructed, deeply human and timely book.

It won’t be for everybody: it’s a bit quirky & dreamy, and, like Jesse wrote on Speculiction, dark indeed. And even though Meginnis writes about flawed characters and flawed times, he keeps moral & political indignation off the page, making it harder for some readers to cling to something they know – the comforting feeling of tribe, the outrage of ideology. And that in itself, is obviously also a political act.


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Click here for an index of my non-fiction & art book reviews, and here for an index of my longer fiction reviews of a more scholarly & philosophical nature.


22 responses to “DROWNING PRACTICE – Mike Meginnis (2022)

  1. Good review. Gives the flavour of the book nicely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was a nicely succinct review from you. I’m glad to be aware of this and how you felt about it.
    Not that I’d read it, mind you 😉

    I can certainly understand the need to write though. I do not understand authors and storytellers, but the raw need to write I completely understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A raw need, I like that. I think I’ve always had that too. Not sure where it comes from. Maybe just the brain wanting to flex certain muscles, not sure. Or maybe it’s exorcism. The need to communicate, if only with yourself. Probably a bit of all three.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been journaling since ’97 and I’ve not yet had the urge to write a book, so it’s definitely just writing 😀

        Liked by 1 person

          • I know exactly why 😀
            Writing a book is work and I do enough of that at work. Plus, I’m really a narcissist and so my journaling is completely “me” centered. Reading old journals has made that clear to me.
            But the act of writing, even typing, just makes me feel better. It is part of why I comment so much and write so many short posts on my blog.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Any inkling why it makes you feel better?

              Liked by 1 person

              • the only way I can describe it is that there is a feeling of something welling up, constantly, inside and that writing makes that feeling subside. It’s not a good or bad feeling, it just is. And if I write too much, it dries out.
                I’ve used the analogy of a well before and it really seems to be the best one I’ve found.
                It’s like there’s a need to write the words…


  3. Interesting! Good review, too, very short but on point. Might take a look at the book, too, sounds like an intriguing statement, or maybe just invitation to think, in the discussion about our times 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d be curious what you’d think of it. Should be something you’d like, I feel. It’s more emotion than cerebral though, not really sure it really made me think. When I finished the last page, there was some lingering feeling for a few hours, doesn’t happen too often.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an intriguing take on the theme of the world-wide apocalypse, focusing on the “before” rather than the “after” and it might represent a quite refreshing change of pace in the genre. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds like a big allegory for something. Good review, Bart!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike Meginnis

    Thanks for this review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, the Paul McCarthy parallel works really well. Yes, the characters would be parodies if their interiors weren’t so unfortunately realistic.

    For what it’s worth, I’m in the middle of Too Like the Lightning based your persistence. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The marriage of realism & parody makes this a strange hybrid, but it works really well, and elevates it way above the generic. As for McCarthy: I had the feeling during multiple instances, I’m glad you see it too.

      As for Palmer: very curious what you’ll end up writing about it. Coincidentally Ola of Re-Enchantment posted a review of the second book a few days ago, and she basically hated it, and I totally understand where she’s coming from.

      As for persistence: have you gotten around to The Ministry of the Future? I fear that book soon might be outdated.


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