Laurel Gray Hawthorne is not especially surprised when she wakes up in the presence of a little girlís ghost one night. After all, she has been visited by her dead uncle on numerous occasions since she fled Delop, Alabama, her impoverished hometown, for a better life in Florida with her husband, David, and Shelby, their daughter. She has seen enough of this kind of thing by now that she would never panic in the company of a ghost. But this time she has the feeling that the drenched child standing in front of her wants to show her something. When she gets out of bed to track its exit from her bedroom window, she sees exactly what it is: the body of a little girl floating in the Hawthorne family swimming pool.
Although the police soon decide that the drowning was an accidental one, Laurel cannot shake the feeling that there is more to it than the police suspect. What was 13-year old Molly Dufresne, her daughterís best friend and neighbor, doing in their backyard all alone after midnight? Do Shelby and the little Delop girl staying with the family for part of the summer know more about what happened than they are ready to admit? Are the two girls in danger from the same man Laurel thinks she spotted on her street when Mollyís body was being carried away?
Laurel knows that she does not have the temperament to take on something like this alone. She is a private person, one who worries too much about appearances and reputation to create the kind of waves it will take to find the truth about Molly Dufresneís death. But she knows someone who has exactly the personality for that job: the sister with whom she has not spoken in months and who has been banned from the Hawthorne home forever, as far as Laurelís husband is concerned.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is part ghost story and part mystery, but what makes it a standout novel is that it is filled with a cast of fully developed and memorable characters. Laurel and her sister, Thalia, may be polar opposites when it comes to temperament, but they share deeply felt memories of growing up poor in the culturally deprived Delop, an area neither could wait to escape. Laurel has settled nicely into her suburban lifestyle and is proud of her reputation as a creator of unique quilts. Thalia, always the rebel, along with her homosexual husband runs a small community theater, is afraid of nothing, and loves nothing better than telling others what is wrong with their own lifestyles.
As Laurel and Thalia investigate the tragedy that happened in Laurelís pool, we come to know David, her video game-designing husband; her parents, who are still very much of Delop; Bet, the little girl who becomes part of the Hawthorne household every summer; and several of Laurelís neighbors. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is a character-driven mystery, and each of the main characters introduced into the story adds bits and pieces to the big picture while the suspense builds and the novel moves relentlessly toward its exciting climax.
The eight-disc audio version of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is skillfully read by the author and includes a short interview with her at the end of disc eight. Jackson, a native of Alabama, handles the accents of rural Alabama with ease, and her vocal representation of the various characters makes each of them easily distinguishable. Mystery and thriller fans will enjoy this one.