CivilWarLand in Bad Decline “The Wavemaker Falters” Summary
by George Saunders

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“The Wavemaker Falters” Summary

“The Wavemaker Falters” is narrated by an unnamed man who works at an amusement park. Some time before the events of the story, the narrator became distracted while operating a wave-making machine at the park’s pool, and because of his negligence, a young boy named Clive was crushed in the machine.

The narrator’s guilt over the accident begins to affect his relationship with his wife, Simone. “Nothing's gone right for us since the day I crushed the boy with the wavemaker,” he mourns. “I haven't been able to forget his little white trunks floating out of the inlet port all bloody.” Haunted by the memory of Clive, the narrator begins to see the boy in visions at night.

Simone, also employed at the park, performs nightly as a wave pool mermaid under the watchful eye of their subquadrant manager, Leon. As the emotional distance between the narrator and his wife grows, he helplessly watches Simone and Leon become closer. Eventually, the two covertly begin an affair.

The narrator’s confidence is further diminished when he makes a failed rescue attempt after a guest falls into a water feature. Leon steps in and the woman is saved, but the narrator is demoted—he’s now working in Towel Distribution and Collection. “Actually it's a relief,” he concedes, as “nobody can get hurt.” His relief is short-lived—on a trip to Leon’s office to report towel usage statistics one day, he overhears the unmistakable sounds of a couple having sex inside. The door opens and he sees Simone leave, followed shortly after by Leon.

When he gets home, he confronts Simone about what he saw. Rather than deny it, Simone tells him she’s going to continue her affair, as the narrator has been distant for far too long. The narrator’s heart is broken, and that night he can hear Simone murmuring Leon’s name in her sleep.

Clive’s ghost visits that night, musing about what his senior prom would have been like and imagining what it’s like to have teenage acne. “Even though he’s one of the undead I have a lot of affection for him,” the narrator admits, somewhat endeared to the nightly apparition. Soon, the phone rings. Clive’s father is on the other end, telling the narrator the day has finally come—he’ll be over shortly to kill him.

The narrator tells Clive he needs to go, and the apparition fades. Clive’s father arrives in a Land Cruiser and bursts through the door, clearly inebriated. “I don’t hate you,” he says, brandishing his gun, “but I can't have you living on this earth while my son isn’t.” As he places his gun to the narrator’s head, the narrator tells him he understands.

Suddenly, he realizes that Clive’s father has gone. Going for a walk and settling down in a graveyard, the narrator tries to make sense of recent events. He tries to let go of Simone but becomes instantly distraught thinking of her with Leon. A flash storm rolls in and lightning strikes a flagpole, sending the nearby animals to scatter in the sudden rain. “Finally,” he says,  “having lost what was to be lost, my torn and...

(The entire section is 818 words.)