Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Inherent in the title “Water Liars” is a theme that dominates much of Barry Hannah’s fiction—the dishonesty that pervades human life and the difficulty humans have in facing truth. The “water liars” tell stories that are, by mutual consent, always outrageously improbable, often involving the supernatural, and never about themselves or known persons so that no one will be hurt. The storytellers prefer to live in a world of illusions, a world in which it is permissible to tell stories of humans having sexual relations with ghosts, but not stories involving the sexual activities of their daughters or wives. When faced with a story that concerns a real incident, they recoil and shun the storyteller.

Like most of Hannah’s protagonists, the narrator is lonely, wounded, and self-reflexive. Because of his recently discovered private truth that his wife was not a virgin when they married, he is particularly vulnerable and unable to retain objectivity about the stories he hears. His knowledge and private suffering therefore color both his hearing of the stories and his telling of them for the reader. Awareness of his wife’s sexual history comes at a crucial time in his life. Thirty-three years old, confronted with money problems, he obviously needs to feel heroic and tries to think of himself, like Jesus, “coming to something decided” in his life, something free from ambiguity, unquestionable, fully resolved.

However, the...

(The entire section is 523 words.)