Underwater Daughter: A Memoir of Survival and Healing by Antonia Deignan, She Writes Press 2023, 250 pages, $9.95.

When she was only four years old, Antonia Deignan writes in her supple and evocative new memoir, Underwater Daughter: A Memoir of Survival and Healing, she was endlessly restless: “I found it hard to sit still,” she writes, “ants in my pants, spiraling energy deep within me.”

This note of restlessness runs throughout the book, mirrored in the cycling tides of the Vineyard beach where she swam as a little girl — she has been a summer resident of Menemsha since the 1970s.

“I stand at the edge of the seashore and slowly, with every riptide circling up the bank and ripping back down again,” she writes, “my feet sink farther in, my weight falls farther backwards and farther into the wettest, quickest sand.”

This other motif, being caught, being mired and sinking, is a likewise dominant thread running through Underwater Daughter — because even by the time Ms. Deignan was four years old, her father was sexually abusing her while most of the other adults in her life stayed silent or looked the other way. There are a few relatively bright spots — her grandmother Bubby, her ballet mistress Sylvia — but Ms. Deignan’s trauma is deepened when, years later in her story, she’s raped by an older actor in a theatre production.

These factors bring on other darknesses, from an eating disorder to drug and alcohol abuse, and Ms. Deignan writes about it all with blunt honesty. The narrative arcs toward one key later event, a bike accident that temporarily brought the headlong course of her life to a halt and opened a space for new reflections on her life.

The bluntness of some of her language and the unsettling nature of many of her recollections makes this at times a stark, bracing book. But these elements are consistently counter-balanced by Ms. Deignan’s often luminous prose. Despite its dark subjects, Underwater Daughter is a curiously lovely reading experience, with the natural world — very much including the healing sights and sounds and scents of the Vineyard’s wild spaces — often intruding into even gritty moments in order to life the tone of the narrative.

“The wind decorated the horizon with indigo and curly-topped foamy white caps,” reads one such passage among many. “And the wind sang with the cawing gulls, wave over wave, and lifted the scurrying feet of sandpipers and plovers and terns and mergansers, feathers wet and matted but quick and flight ready.”

This mixture of both narrative tone and narrative topic has the ultimate effect of creating a genuinely optimistic story. In Underwater Daughter our narrator withstands everything life can throw at her and still manages to find that thread of optimism and self-renewal running through it all. Most readers won’t have had such rough lives — but they’ll still find Ms. Deignan’s story compelling.

Antonia Deignan will give a reading at Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on June 14 at 7 p.m.