So Much Water So Close to Home

by Raymond Carver

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

He called the others and they came to look. They talked about what to do. One of the men—my Stuart didn’t say which—said they should start back at once. The others stirred the sand with their shoes, said they didn’t feel inclined that way. They pleaded fatigue, the late hour, the fact that the girl wasn’t going anywhere.

In the above quote, Carver highlights the men's discomfort upon discovering the girl's lifeless body. From the text, we learn that the men talked about "what to do." Only one of the men suggests going back and informing the authorities about their discovery. All are uneasy.

The rest of the men plead fatigue. Carver leaves unspoken the group's overriding concerns. For example, if they return at such a late hour and inform the authorities, will they be implicated in the girl's death? Also, the girl is naked, which indicates the possibility of sexual assault. The men fear the appearance of guilt, which explains their behavior when Stuart makes the call.

It was Stuart who made the call while the others stood around in the sun and listened. He gave the sheriff their names. They had nothing to hide. They weren’t ashamed. They said they’d wait until someone could come for better directions and take down their statements.

In the above quote, we can see the defensive postures of the men. They maintain that they have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. Carver, by his omission of more details, manages to imbue the girl's death with an air of sinister mystery.

"They said they were innocent. They said they were crazy."

He says, "Who?" He says, "What are you talking about?"

"The Maddox brothers. They killed a girl named Arlene Hubly where I grew up. They cut off her head and threw her into the Cle Elum River. It happened when I was a girl."

He says, "Goddamn it, why can’t people mind their own business? Tell me what I did wrong and I’ll listen! I wasn’t the only man there. We talked it over and we all decided. We couldn’t just turn around. We were five miles from the car. I won’t have you passing judgment. Do you hear?"

"You know," I say.

He says, "What do I know, Claire? Tell me what I’m supposed to know. I don’t know anything except one thing?" He gives me what he thinks is a meaningful look. "She was dead," he says. "And I’m as sorry as anyone else. But she was dead."

"That’s the point," I say.

In the above quote, Carver highlights the conflict between Claire and Stuart. Both are frustrated, uneasy, and worried. Claire remembers that the Maddox brothers killed a girl brutally and threw her into the river. She points out that the brothers declared their innocence. However, they were found guilty of the crime. Claire's assertion of "You know," is an explosive statement. It implies guilt on Stuart's part and Claire's suspicion of his guilt. It's a deeply terrifying statement. However, Carver doesn't elaborate, and we don't know whether Stuart is guilty. As for Stuart, he argues that the group made a collective decision to wait to report their gruesome discovery.

At this point in the story, we have more questions than answers. Are Stuart or any of his friends guilty of the girl's murder? If they are innocent, did the fear of reprisal lead them to wait before reporting their find to the authorities?

The story gets its title from a comment Claire seems to make to herself. 

So much water so close to home I...

(This entire section contains 757 words.)

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say, "Why did you have to go miles away?" 

Claire seems to wish that the fishing group hadn’t strayed all that far from their town, especially because there are bodies of water much closer to them. If Claire thinks they are guilty, then she seems to also believe that this girl would have been spared had her husband been elsewhere. There are too many unknowns: if they had been at a more central location, none of this would have happened.

The story ends with Claire and Stuart making love. However, Carver leaves the most obvious question unanswered: Are Stuart and his friends responsible in some way for the girl's death? The open-ended denouement leaves us with an uncomfortable feeling. Carver drives home the disturbing point that, sometimes, the real perpetrators of a crime are never brought to justice.