Kimberley Lynne is a writer, actor, director, scenic designer, and theatrical producer. Her first novel, Dredging the Choptank, was published in May 2010 by Apprentice House. Lynne is a member of Actors Equity Association and the Dramatist Guild, and over 30 of her plays have been produced in Baltimore, Washington, Minneapolis and New York.
"Chilling and mysterious folklore comes to life in this supernatural thriller about a writer investigating ghost legend in a town in denial. Stakes are raised when the writer protagonist discovers a Native American burial ground under an Eastern Shore jail and begins hallucinating black shapes and undulating snakes. This poltergeist fable is based upon the spirit myth of Dorchester County as well as Lynne's personal ghost narrative. Like a parable with a little bit of dangerous truth, the ghost stories are all genuine."
My friend Kimberley Lynne’s novel, Dredging the Choptank, mixes folklore, impressive research, and a soberly gonzo narrative style to tell the story of a documentarian who discovers a Native American burial ground under an Eastern Shore jail.
I say “gonzo” because the book is based on Kimberley’s own travails with the Dorchester County Historical Society, so a lot of the interactions between the narrator (named Maryland, oddly enough) and other characters really happened. But while creative license certainly comes into play elsewhere — it is a novel, after all — the book isn’t gonzo in a Fear & Loathing sense of the term, or like those weird legends that George Lippard wrote about George Washington coming back from the dead. Yeesh.
In any case, Dredging captures the landscape of the Eastern Shore, both natural and man-made, and how unsettling it can be through the right kind of eyes. Our narrator’s, to be exact. She is perpetually out of her element — either she’s walking through cemeteries (or oddly quiet streets), or she’s trying to pry details about local hauntings from the polite-but-tight-lipped society ladies who control any and all access to regional history.
The role that class plays in the preservation and neglect of folklore is the most interesting part of the book, at least to me. Class issues are a constant source of irritation and disquiet to the narrator, from the broad gulf between haves and have-nots in Cambridge, MD, to the haves’ miserly reluctance to talk about the less seemly bits of Maryland’s past. Some of them refuse to admit that pirates were ever a part of state history. As the great-great-great grandson of Baltimore privateer Pearl Durkee, I took offense to their shame.
This isn’t an unfamiliar attitude in troubled cities like Baltimore, which sits across the Bay Bridge from the Shore and is full of wealthy people who like to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend they live in New York. But the underlying theme of class-based historical whitewashing is just as creepy as the ghosts, or the narrator’s research-induced hallucinations. It’s a trifle unexpected, too. Who knew ghost stories were this political? I didn’t. My theory is that old money likes to squash folklore because of what it reveals about how their families got rich.
The second most interesting part of the book is near the beginning, when the narrator learns that her house’s previous owner performed abortions in what is now her basement. “I may never do laundry down there again,” is her understandable response. I bring this up as an illustration of the sense of humor employed throughout. Understated and clever, and sometimes born from necessity, the sardonic edge to the narrator’s observations keeps them from getting textbooky or didactic without obscuring their clarity.
That last point is important, because the pace here is set by details: how the “watermen unloaded dripping baskets off tipping oyster boats,” or how Dorchester Country roads “curve through thick swamps with no guardrails.” Moments like those force the reader to linger on pages and really take in the setting, which is so lushly rendered that it should be recognized as a character in and of itself.
I’ll leave you all with the promotional video Kimberley put together for the book — I make a cameo as the ghost who probably sweats off ten pounds in the heavy black cloak he was wearing that day. It did keep the mosquitoes off, though.
Buy this book.