Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 570
“Water Liars” is told in first person by an unnamed married man who recalls his reaction the previous year when he learned that his wife had had sex with other men before their marriage. As the story begins, he is still trying to determine why he was, and apparently still is, unable to handle that knowledge. He realizes his tendency to constantly relive every “passionate event” and finds himself driven wild by thinking about his wife’s former lovers even though he acknowledges that her sexual history is no different from his.
On the morning following his thirty-third birthday, after a night of extensive drinking, he and his wife awake to a truth telling that leaves the narrator in great shock and dismay. After several weeks of trying unsuccessfully to deal with his newfound knowledge about his wife’s sexual experiences, the narrator, on the pretext of going on a fishing trip with a friend, takes off for a week at Farte Cove. Typically, when things go wrong for the narrator, he finds escape and comfort in going down to Farte Cove off the Yazoo River in Mississippi to fish, drink, and listen to the old liars who gather on a fishing pier and tell tall tales and ghost stories. In addition to his unresolved agony about his wife, he also leaves behind worries about bill collectors and money problems.
When he reaches Farte Cove on Friday evening, he sees a combination of old and new faces, but the stories begin as always—a tale of sexual relations with a ghost, a yarn about numerous large fish caught with bare hooks, and an account of the ghost of the Yazoo himself wandering the area. Then one “old boy” tells of having to chase away from their pier hundreds of high school students who were drinking, using drugs, and swimming naked. This story immediately leads the narrator to recall his personal agony and to envision his wife back in 1960 as part of such a high school group. He becomes enraged with jealousy even while recognizing the illogic of his emotion. He knows that as a teenager he had forced girls into sexual experiences, only to berate them afterward.
The narrator finds himself jolted back to the events at hand when a newcomer about sixty years old, younger than most of the old liars, begins a tale of a fishing experience that occurred late one night with a friend in a small cove nearby. He says that the two fishermen began hearing such unnatural moans and sighs that they became terrified. Finally, with a large flashlight, they discovered over in the brush on the bank the storyteller’s own daughter and a man, both half-naked, making the ghostlike noises. The older fishermen become visibly upset by the newcomer’s story, and two of them complain that it is not an appropriate story.
The narrator, however, recognizes that the storyteller has related a truthful experience, an experience from which he has never recovered. Therefore, he takes the storyteller back to the cabin with him and his fishing buddy, Wyatt, and they all get drunk. The next morning they go out fishing in the same cove in which the storyteller had seen his daughter. The narrator, recalling this event, says he felt a strong kinship with the storyteller, and he ends “Water Liars” with en epiphanic declaration, “We were both crucified by the truth.”
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