Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425
Unlike most of Hannah’s fiction, “Water Liars” has no violence, has a fairly straightforward plot, and even includes a traditional epiphany. Yet the greatest strengths of the story are those found in most of his writing—the style, the voice, and the language. “Water Liars” is replete with word play that develops character, theme, and tone. In the opening sentence the narrator refers to himself as being “flocked around by the world,” an unusual word choice that indicates a sense of being surrounded like an animal, trapped and helpless. Even though he later proclaims he is not “poor-mouthing” and that he does not want pity from anyone, he clearly feels betrayed and regards himself to be a victim.
Another significant use of word play in the opening paragraph is the reference to the old liars “snapping and wheezing at one another.” “Wheeze” suggests not only the difficulty the old men have breathing, but that they are telling familiar jokes or tales, stories that enable them to escape rather than face reality.
Some of the word play turns, as it frequently does in Hannah’s fiction, into scatological humor. The scatological imagery reflects the bleakness, the negativity of life; at the same time, the accompanying humor provides one means of coping with that bleakness. The narrator’s place of escape is Farte Cove, and the narrator focuses attention on the implications of the name so that they do not escape the reader. He notes that the family for whom the cove was named insisted on pronouncing their name Fartay. The narrator also reveals that the composition of the crowd gathered there continually changes as men are “always dying out or succumbing to constipation.” He continues the joke by making a remark about the men carrying bran cookies in their coats.
References to Christianity are also frequent in Hannah’s work, and in this story he uses an allusion to Jesus’ crucifixion as a framing device for the narrator’s epiphany. The narrator makes a direct comparison of himself to Jesus near the beginning of the story when he refers to his thirty-third birthday celebration. Then he reiterates the connection with his comment about being crucified in the concluding sentence of the story. The comparison is ironic, however, because the narrator’s agony results from an acknowledged selfishness, from his inability to accept sexual experiences by his wife even while acknowledging committing similar actions himself. However, unlike the “water liars,” he at least recognizes and confronts the truth even when he does not fully understand it.