cover image The Water Cure

The Water Cure

Percival Everett. Graywolf Press, $22 (216pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-476-3

In this latest tense salvo from the author of Wounded and Erasure, Ishmael Kidder-divorced, self-loathing, and distrustful of government and restaurants-lives on a mountain outside of Taos, New Mexico, writing romance novels under the name Estelle Gilliam. When his 11-year-old daughter Lane is brutally murdered, Ishmael's already fragile world implodes, and revenge becomes his only salve. Having kidnapped and tortured the man he believes to be Lane's killer, he writes a confession and manifesto, which Everett delivers as this novel. Composed in text fragments and illustrations, Ishmael's ponderous rant covers everything from semiotics and Greek philosophy to deception and the Iraq War. Scenes of torture and grief are affecting but surprisingly few, and scant time is devoted to the captor-captive relationship, or any relationship, other than Ishmael's with words. Many of his fragments are nearly indecipherable, as he inverts sentences and misspells words to contend with the failures of language and meaning, and by extension sanity, morality and law. While Everett's aims are imaginatively and intellectually rigorous, the novel's tangle of emotion and strained logic ultimately frustrate the reader more than illuminate Ishmael's plight. The best scenes, however, relate wry but beautiful moments of civic and domestic tenderness in language that is musical and sure.