Booktails from the Potions Library, with mixologist Lindsay Merbaum

Curl up with a cocktail and Abigail Stewart’s “The Drowned Woman,” a beautiful meditation on identity and motherhood

In Abigail Stewart’s novel, The Drowned Woman (published by Whiskey Tit, May 5, 2022) 23-year-old Jeanette has traveled west to start a new life, along with a graduate program in Art History. The narrative initially reveals little of Jeanette’s past, offering a portrait of her as she is now–creatively doling out her minimal dollars for drinks and snacks and smokes, enjoying time alone in her austere apartment–her every gesture and decision revealing, yet at the same time obscuring her identity by prompting more unanswered questions. Jeanette is not so much carefree as indifferent to certain expectations or norms. To her, happiness is “operatic music pumped through rented library headphones, thrifted dresses, a stolen robe, regular sex, enough money for a pack of cigarettes, the plants she’d grown from cuttings, Scotch, art books and writing about them…” When she forms a connection with Oliver, the TA for the Religion in Art class she’s taking, an unforeseen path reveals itself, one that will alter the course of Jeanette’s career trajectory, while shaping–or perhaps excavating–creative and complex aspects of her being. Ultimately, she leaves Oliver and others, including the reader, to ponder what they really know and understand about this talented woman’s narrative of art, identity, and desire.   

A contemporary parallel to the feminist classic The Awakening, Abigail Stewart’s novel is a sharp, beautiful meditation on identity and motherhood, a book that’s as timely as it is engaging. 

As it’s Jeanette’s favorite, Scotch serves as the base of this booktail, mixed with clove for Oliver’s rich scent and the spices in the chai offered by Jeanette’s sole friend, a convenience store owner named Vihaan. Agave adds a touch of sweetness, a nod to Frida Kahlo: in one of her essays, Jeanette writes, “Frida Kahlo’s Self Portrait, 1953 illustrates the places on her body that she felt were not her own, the places that were injured, painful, and necessitated ‘fixin’…” The surrealist painter’s favorite drink was in fact tequila, which also derives from the agave plant. Meanwhile, mandarin juice represents all the mandarins Oliver brings Jeanette, as if “worried she’ll get scurvy,” and blood orange juice adds a sour note, its color a symbol of the savage beauty and the bloody business of womanhood. Finally, aromatic bitters are a nod to Old Fashioneds (which must contain bitters) and bitter truths we sometimes struggle to face. The combined effect is mysteriously raspberry-like, with warm, yet also mild, citrusy notes. In other words, it’s a drink you won’t see coming.

This booktail is presented against a textured canvas layered with blue, purple, and black tones, a red, abstract, bolt-like flower dividing the center of the composition. The book stands on the painting’s left side, the shining base of the display reflecting waves of blue, like water. The petite, vintage-style cocktail glass–the kind you might find in a thrift store, if you’re lucky–stands in front of the book, framed by strands of asparagus and fresh purple, pink, green, and white flowers. 

The Drowned Woman

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Scotch
  • 0.5 oz agave 
  • 0.5 oz fresh mandarin juice
  • 0.5 oz fresh blood orange juice 
  • 3 whole cloves 
  • A dash aromatic bitters 
  • Garnish: a blood orange wheel 

Instructions

First, prepare the juices. Then add all ingredients to a shaker, along with a large cube or chunk of ice. Agitate vigorously, then strain into a stemmed glass—mind the cloves!— and garnish with a blood orange wheel, if desired.

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