So Much Water So Close to Home

by Raymond Carver

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Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Suspicion and Distrust

There are a number of things that occur in the short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" by Raymond Carver, but the main theme that runs throughout is one of suspicion and distrust. The entire short story is centered around wife Claire and husband Stuart and the suspicion that grows between them. It seems Claire is naturally suspicious, because the beginning of the story shows the two of them eating dinner, and Claire seems suspicious of her husband's intent while eating. She presumes that, while Stuart's eating the dinner, he doesn't actually enjoy it and he's just eating it to be polite. Perhaps Claire would be less concerned about the meal had the main plot of the story not centered around further suspicion. After Stuart and his friends find a woman's body on a fishing trip, Claire becomes immediately suspicious that something nefarious happened on the fishing trip. The men on the trip saw the body immediately, yet camped for two nights anyway before alerting authorities. This hangs over her like a dark cloud, and she starts to become worried for herself and scared of what Stuart could be, in spite of the lack of legitimate evidence favoring her hypothesis. The suspicion about the woman's death and the men's actions begins to tear Claire apart, and she descends into more and more skepticism and fear throughout the story.

Exacerbated Marital Strife

Another related theme throughout the story is the idea of marital strife. An unhappy marriage will exacerbate many of the other issues present—suspicions will be stronger because there is broken trust, anger will boil up more rapidly, and spouses will be unkind to one another. The fact that these characters share a somewhat tense and terse marriage just exaggerates the other situations in the story and serves to worsen Claire's suspicions. The two seem to be slightly out of sync with one another, and this dynamic is exacerbated by the fishing trip. Claire is wary of Stuart and even afraid of him in the bed next to her. Stuart is clearly tense himself after the trip’s aftermath. He is drinking, being harsh to his wife, and pushing their sexual relationship despite emotional strain. Each half of the couple is accusing the other of being suspicious, which further exacerbates their already strained relationship. 

Mystery and Suspense

A theme that does not help the characters’ situation comes more from Stuart's perspective: the role of mystery and suspense. The story explores how when people are accused of something—regardless of innocence—they will act angrily in response to the accusation. They will even be mysterious about the events themselves. Stuart never quite gives a clear explanation of the events in the story, only fueling the suspicion throughout the rest of the story. The most unsettling part of the story is that no one truly knows what occurred on the camping trip. Stuart and his fishing friends may honestly mean that nothing happened and they did not want to make the five-mile trip back; this is plausible. It is also impossible to account for their story. It is a mystery why, after stumbling upon a dead body in the river, any group of people would comfortably stay in its midst for two nights. Even though the accounts from the trip and the police point to the murderer in custody, readers are never given the satisfaction of knowing the true answer to the mystery.

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