Book Review: “Drowned Town” by Jayne Moore Waldrop

Drowned Town by Jayne Moore Waldrop

THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY, OCTOBER 26, 2021

During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a one of his New Deal programs. The TVA was tasked with building hydroelectric dams in the Tennessee Valley area to generate electricity, provide flood control, create jobs, and energize the economy of the particularly hard-hit areas of the Southeastern U.S. From the 1940s to 1960s several dams were built across the region, changing the geography and displacing many river-based communities through the use of eminent domain. 

In her debut novel, Drowned Town, Jayne Moore Waldrop explores the impact these reservoirs had and still have on families haunted by their removal from their homes, farms, and ways of life a half century ago. The story follows multiple generations of connected families who once lived in the town of Eddyville, Kentucky. A town now sitting at the bottom of Lake Barkley on the Cumberland River near the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. 

“The sign memorialized U.S. presidents, vice presidents, and governors from Kentucky and Tennessee, but failed to mention the people who had lived in the town and given up their homes as the giant lake rose. They had been told their sacrifice was for the public good. They were never told how much they would miss it, or for how long.”

One of the two main characters is Cam Weatherford, an architect in her late 40s who was six-years-old when her blue-collar family was moved from their ancestral home to the newly-built town of Sycamore during the construction of the Lake Barkley dam in the 1960s. Now living in Nashville, she marries her childhood friend Owen with the wedding taking place near their hometown in a remote, recently-restored church that had been hidden and forgotten for decades after the valley was flooded. 

“For the last few months she had focused on the future—whether to get married, what kind of wedding suited them—but today the past pulled at her.”

The second main character is Margaret Starks, Cam’s best friend since college and a high-powered and successful lawyer from an aristocratic Louisville family. Despite the two women’s contrasting backgrounds they share a sisterly bond. In Cam’s simple but supportive family, Margaret finds a stronger family bond that she had in her cold relationships with her own mother and father. However, because of her demanding legal practice in Louisville and the recent passing of her husband and parents, she has grown a bit distant from her best friend. While at her friend’s wedding, she rekindles her relationship with Cam’s family and meets Neville, an unsuspecting intellectual and another of Cam’s childhood friends. 

As a result of her reintroduction to her Lake Barkley friends and the slow implosion of her life in Louisville, Margaret begins to find what is missing in her prosperous but desolate existence—a supportive family, a sense of purpose, and an appreciation of community. 

“She now saw the place for what it was, one transformed by immeasurable loss but where something beautiful rose from all that was missing.”

In her novel, Waldrop explores many themes, such as love, loss, sisterhood, and the exhausting search for self-worth. But woven throughout the poignant narrative is the notion of change (sometimes unwanted, sometimes desperately needed) and the appreciation of the factors that make a place a home. 

Available in hardcover at The University Press of Kentucky (click on image below), independent bookstores, and Amazon.

1 thought on “Book Review: “Drowned Town” by Jayne Moore Waldrop

  1. Now you’ve really made me want to read this book. I’ve been fascinated with the history around the TVA and the experiences of those affected by the projects. I’m glad Jayne Moore Waldrop has given a voice to these people.

    Liked by 1 person

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