Sandy Adam’s world is turned upside when her husband Vernon kills another man in a rage of jealousy. After her husband is imprisoned Sandy desperately searches for something of Vernon’s that produces affection within her. She is surprised to find meaningful feeling when she touches Vernon’s fly-fishing gear. She is surprised because he never really cared for fly-fishing.
This jolt of feeling creates a new longing in Sandy. It isn’t a longing for Vernon, but for something else, something she can’t quite identify. It is something she knows she will find fly- fishing in the midst of the river in the Ripshin watershed. In a shocking rejection of Vernon, she changes her name back to Sandy Holston, leaves her past behind, and moves to Damascus, Virginia with hope for new life.
Sandy encounters both the local color of Damascus residents and the native purity of eastern brook trout in her journey through the watershed. She struggles to find identity in a place where a woman devoted to fly-fishing doesn’t quite fit. After a slight infraction against a native brookie she is plagued by guilt. She discovers that despite her outward changes her past simply won’t let go. Neither will Vernon. After his release from prison, he tracks her down, and forces Sandy to encounter her past.
Tim Poland creates a story with a clear linear plot, predictable characters, and surface dialogue. Underneath the surface the imagery of deeper water is used with skill. The metaphorical meaning of the title— “The Safety of Deeper Water”— reflects Sandy’s pursuit for a new identity in life. But there is more to the metaphor. The dissimilarity between the objects compared and the interconnections of deep water, river, and watershed allows Poland to create a poetic ambiguity that results in multiple meanings. Sandy’s best friend, Margie, playfully calls the watershed a “waterbed.” The Ripshin River becomes for Margie the fulfillment of a longing for personal intimacy with someone of the opposite sex. For Edith Moser, a minor character with a major role, the Ripshon River is an arterial pathway. The heart of the region beats with its life-giving blood. Later a “clot” of Damascus men along the river’s edge threatens Sandy. In several ways the river takes on a religious significance. The biblical text is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and in a liturgy of death and renewal Sandy’s guilt is washed away when she is buried and raised to new life in the baptismal waters of the watershed. Her change of name from Adams to Holston is no longer a theoretical ambition but a spiritual reality. She is given a new vision, not just of the surface of the water, but of its depths.
Tim Poland weaves many characters, recurrent troubles, aspiring hopes, and community life into the organic and ecological whole of the watershed. Within the web of these interconnections Sandy struggles with her past and the conventions of the Damascus community to a celebratory ending.
Books by Tim Poland: The Safety of Deep Waters – Vandalia Press/West Virginia University Press, 2008 | Other Stones, Kinder Temples – Pudding House Press, 2008 | Escapee - American House 2001