cover image Watershed


Percival Everett. Graywolf Press, $22.95 (216pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-237-0

Displaying much of the rueful irony and political bite, but none of the comic elan that distinguished his last novel, God's Country, Everett unfurls a disturbing, but rough-hewn story about a disaffected African American hydrologist, reluctantly enmeshed in a battle between Native American terrorists and nefarious federal agents. The opening scene is sharply drawn, as Robert Hawks, trapped in a church in the north Colorado mountains by 250 police, with three dead men and a gagged and bound FBI agent by his feet, reflects back on the events that brought him there. But the rest of the novel is a bumpy ride, interspersed with leaden excerpts from secondary sources (ranging from topographical reports to a 1916 treaty granting water rights to the Plata Indians). Hawks recounts escaping from his high-strung girlfriend for a month of fishing at his cabin near the Plata Reservation; giving a ride to the enigmatic Louise Yellow Calf on the day that two FBI agents were murdered near the Plata watershed, then lying to the FBI about it; and, after prodding by Louise's relatives, uncovering a clandestine toxic dumping ground in the Plata mountains and a dam engineered to divert contaminated water into the reservation. Recalling his own father and grandfather's reluctant civil rights activism in the 1960s, he resolves to do the right thing, trekking across the mountains in a white-out to aid Louise's compatriots in a bloody showdown with the FBI. It's an ambitious novel, but Everett's dolorous subplots about broken families and failed relationships lack the nuance of the cultural background he gives them, one of black and Native American communities waging turf battles against rogue cops and racist whites. (May)