A bittersweet brew of magical realism and environmental elegy


Nancy Wayson Dinan

Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here: A Novel

Bloomsbury Publishing

Hardcover (also available as an e-book and audiobook), 978-1-6355-7443-2, 336 pgs., $27

May 19, 2020

“You know what happens during a normal rain? . . . Everybody stays home. They sit on their couch with a blanket and a frozen pizza and they watch TV. They don’t all go out in it and disappear.”

Eighteen-year-old Boyd has always been a little different, “like the forked stick of a dowser, positioned over dry earth, turned not to water, but to pain.” She is an extreme empath whose (sometimes unwanted) telepathic gifts allow her to know things she should not, and now, the Earth itself is trying to communicate. The Texas Hill Country is suffering from extreme drought in the summer of 2015, “even the oldest of the old-timers agree” that it’s the “leading edge of the apocalypse.” Towns drowned when the river was dammed to create the chain of Highland Lakes are re-emerging.


Boyd is beginning another summer of panning for gold on her family’s little spit of beach on Lake Marble Falls with her best friend (and maybe-boyfriend—it’s complicated), Isaac, and looking forward to her grandfather’s wedding during Memorial Day weekend. But as storm clouds unleash, Boyd knows Isaac is in danger from an epic flood, during which “the trees had taken in travelers, like medieval monasteries opening doors,” and she sets out to rescue him.


Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here is the debut novel from Texan Nancy Wayson Dinan, former managing editor for Texas Tech University’s literary journal, Iron Horse, and current teacher and PhD student at Tech. Taking as inspiration what will become known as the historic Central Texas Memorial Day Flood of 2015, Dinan, among visitations animal, vegetable, mineral, and ghost, concocts a bittersweet brew of magical realism and environmental elegy.


The narrative is a relay told by Dinan’s quirky cross section of Hill Country natives, big-city escapees, and iconoclasts: Boyd; Carla, aspiring good-witch and follower of snakes; ambitious Isaac, aspiring to the bourgeoise and “multiple sets of sheets,” far from his Texas-history-teaching, Maximillian’s-treasure-hunting father, Ruben; a commune set on the banks of the Colorado River; and Sleeping Beauty, among others.


Each chapter is preceded by an eponymous couple of pages of Hill Country history and lore, introducing the main themes and conflicts following. Dinan’s subtle foreshadowing is like a tiny Hill Country crossroads—blink and you will miss it. Pacing mirrors time in the novel, which is relative—sometimes racing like the Blanco River, sometimes elegiac like Hill Country summers, sometimes merging through a wormhole as saber-toothed cats, nineteenth-century German settlers, and Boyd converge in the continuum.


Things You Would Know is a timely novel of portents and omens for the climate change-viral dystopia we are inhabiting, disclosing how thin our veneer of civilization. If fiction can help us learn to live new realities, then this is a good place to begin.


Nancy Wayson Dinan is a native Texan who currently lives in San Jose, Costa Rica. The former managing editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, she now teaches at Texas Tech University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Texas Observer, Arts & Letters, Crab Orchard Review, The Cincinnati Review, and others. She earned her MFA from the Ohio State University in 2013 and is currently a PhD student in fiction at Texas Tech.