I am guilty not because of my actions, to which I freely admit, but for my accession, admission, confession that I
executed these actions with not only deliberation and
premeditation but with zeal and paroxysm and purpose . . .
The true answer to your question is shorter than the lie.
Did you? I did.
This is a confession of a victim turned villain. When Ishmael Kidder's eleven-year-old daughter is brutally murdered, it stands to reason that he must take revenge by any means necessary. The punishment is carried out without guilt, and with the usual equipment—duct tape, rope, and superglue. But the tools of psychological torture prove to be the most devastating of all.
Percival Everett's most lacerating indictment to date, The Water Cure follows the gruesome reasoning and execution of revenge in a society that has lost a common moral ground, where rules are meaningless. A master storyteller, Everett draws upon disparate elements of Western philosophy, language theory, and military intelligence reports to create a terrifying story of loss, anger, and helplessness in our modern world. This is a timely and important novel that confronts the dark legacy of the Bush years and the state of America today.
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About the Author
Percival Everett is a professor of English at the University of Southern California and the author of sixteen books, including American Desert, Erasure, and Glyph. He lives in Los Angeles.
Percival Everett is the author of more than twenty books. He is the recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction. He teaches at the University of Southern California and lives outside Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
... so we induce
the arduous nowhere.
These pages are my undertaking. I am guilty not because of my actions, to which I freely admit, but for my accession, admission, confession that I executed these actions with not only deliberation and premeditation but with zeal and paroxysm and purpose, above all else purpose, that I clearly articulate without apology or qualification, and so I find myself merely a sign, a clear sign, and like any sign I am indifferent to the nature of the thing that I designate or, for lack of a better word, signify, while scratching at the dried blood beneath my nails, my voice rough and hoarse from disuse, for no matter how articulate my confession, it takes few words to utter it, the truth always requiring fewer words, and generally smaller words, than lies and half-truths, and they are never called half-lies, and this is instructive, the way so many things are instructive, and it all comes back to that indifference to the marked thing, the way nouns and names behave badly and play loose with meaning, the way language resists the tightening of screws and the sketching of schema and the way the angle of incidence complements the angle of reflection: the whole mess of language yearning for a decent visual metaphor to connect it with the world toward which it is so indifferent. The true answer to your question is shorter than the lie. Did you? I did.
A dead face is no face at all, at all no face, no face it is not cold, not plastic, no longer flesh, all dream, all thought, it is all too human and animal and human and even expressive, but it is no face at all and one can hold a living face in one's hands, but a dead face sifts through fingers, leaks, drips, no face, a living face gives back even when sleeping even when unconscious, but a dead face absorbs one's gaze, stretches that search for connection to infinity, the familiar functions of connection, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division do not work for dead faces, as they do not work as arithmetical procedures for infinite decimals, a dead face, like an infinite decimal, corresponds to nothing in the real world, a dead face is a concept, and so one cannot hold it in one's hands, and so I hold my daughter's living face, her once-living face, that face that I loved and, with my then-wife, made, as a reality in my mind, resisting the common, persisting, unhelpful belief that memories are every time newly constructed, cultivated, harvested, no face at all my daughter's sweet sweet face is a real living thing inside me, abstract and real, never gone so never in need of reconstructing and somewhere there is a thing in this world, my world, the only world that is her sweet dead face, no face at all, perhaps a symbol, a sign, a directional beacon, a denoting or connoting marker but no face at all.
Ce n'est que jeu de mots, qu'affectation pure.
"Hey, did you hear the one about the ..."
For me, salvation is not a place of comfort, however good that place might feel, but a place of safety, contentment, a place, whether physical, emotional, or intellectual, that is free of external voices and a couple of internal ones as well. Salvation, it turns out, is a couple of map-folds away from serenity. Salvation might keep you alive, but it won't make you happy about it.
I used to find serenity in the face of my daughter, but that state went missing, as did she, turned up missing, as it was put, as if a person, a life, an idea can be discovered by the realization of its absence. Lane was eleven years old, a small eleven, when she was abducted and only two days older when her small body was found with all her life having turned up missing. She had been too young to truly imagine death, too young to have understood enough of life to cherish it, but old enough to have taught me to do so, the lesson having been given with no fanfare, bells, singing, but quietly and, so, peculiarly, in a jarring fashion, like a self-slap to the forehead, as if to say, oh yeah, that's why we're here. Now, it is as if I have turned around to find a chalkboard erased of all that matters, the only remaining marks somehow indicating the date.
Lane had been standing in the front yard of her mother's house, just as she had a thousand times. There had no doubt been a light, maybe cool breeze, and perhaps a cloud had drifted in front of the sun. Charlotte had seen the child there, leaning on her bicycle, and just minutes later, the bicycle was there alone, laid on the grass between the uneven sidewalk and the street, that strip of land which could have belonged to the city or to Charlotte, a place where the child had never laid her bicycle before. Twenty minutes passed, then another twenty minutes, then another of Charlotte driving slowly, with increasing panic, through her neighborhood. She called me from her driveway, her panic working its way into numbness that finally led to the question, "What do I do?"
"Call the police," I said.
"I'll be right there."
I did not close my files. I grabbed my keys from my desk, left my wallet and license on the kitchen table, and took the elevator down to my car. I can still feel that haunting, hollow sensation, an ice lance at the back of my stomach, as if I had forgotten to eat, the cavity of my gut quiet and hard. There was a police cruiser in the drive when I pulled up. Charlotte was going over it all again: white sneakers with red stripes, light blue jeans, a darker blue T-shirt, a blue hooded sweatshirt — "Blue is her favorite color," she offered nervously — brown skin, a head full of wild dark hair.
Charlotte and I had not been close for several years, despite our belief and vocal claim that our split had been amicable, but the child was ours and when she saw me, she embraced me and I hugged her back. The physical reconnection punctuated the gravity of the situation. The fear had to find some release, and it became an irritation with the policemen who were standing in the driveway instead of scouring the streets.
"Why aren't you out looking?" is what Charlotte said.
"We are, ma'am," said a sturdy policeman, and we apparently believed him.
No one had seen anything. At least they had seen nothing that made them think to remember it. No strange cars, no strange vans, no strange or odd-looking men. And so a long-standing philosophical question was answered for me: if your child screams in the forest and there is no one around to hear, does she make a sound? It turns out that she does not.
The police canvassed the darkening neighborhood twice and then again. There was no so-called Amber Alert because there was no car description to release to the public. Charlotte went back into her house, I believed, to search it for the thousandth time, and I drove over the same pavement until I became the strange and suspicious car that residents might recall.
I returned to Charlotte's house that night to find her being comforted by her boyfriend, a nice enough fellow who was in way over his head now. He stood there while fear and familiarity combined to bring Charlotte and me close once again. And yet, not really, as none of our concern, rightly, ever became for the fear and pain of the other. We wanted only our daughter. More precisely, to emphasize the division, she wanted her daughter, and I wanted mine. I had to give Buck or Chuck or whatever-his-name-was credit because he hung in there, fetching water and peering out the window and at the idle telephone. He fell asleep in a stuffed chair while Charlotte drank pot after pot of tea and I paced. The next day came with far too clear a morning. Charlotte peed with the door open and watched the phone. The police came early to tell us that they had no reason to be there so early and so they left and the day stretched out as a tedious exercise of clock watching. The boyfriend and I drove our separate cars in widening circles of desperation and though he was in another place altogether, I decided that I liked him and hoped Charlotte would be happy with him and then realized that all my thinking was an act of self-preservative distraction.
Early the next morning, a detective, a woman, came to Charlotte's door, and we all saw this as a bad sign and in fact it was, as the news she delivered was that a young girl matching Lane's description had been found in a ravine beside a park by two boys and their dog. She had gone into so much detail, it seemed to me, about the park that led to a ditch that fed into a concrete drainage canal, and the boys, aged nine and ten, not brothers, but across-the-street neighbors, that I found myself asking, without knowing why or even that I was asking, "What kind of dog was it?"
I come from a nation of stupid fucks and by association, at least, if not genetic inevitability, a sobering and sickening thought, I must be a stupid fuck as well. The stupid fucks in my country elected a king stupid fuck, and he ruled with stupid fuck glory and majesty, a stupid fuck for the ages, who in a more fair time might have been successful as the man who follows behind the circus parade with a shovel, but probably not. The stupid fuck was elected by stupid fucks and supported by stupid fucks and even occasionally fell out of favor with stupid fucks, but stupid fucks, being stupid fucks, either forgot or forgave and again loved the king stupid fuck who loved war and money and butchering the language while chewing at the inside of his cheek, polluting the air with slogans like, If you can't find your enemy, create one and When in doubt, fear and hate, though my favorite unused one is It's Us against Them, too bad We're not all Us. But I too am a stupid fuck, if for no other reason than for calling you a stupid fuck and expecting you to read on and for writing this bit to open this bigger bit that might or might not have anything to do with my entire project here, if indeed it is a project, a book, a mission, a work, a journal, or graffiti. Yes, graffiti, that is what this is, my messages scribbled across boxcars and bridges and the sheet-metal fences encircling scrap yards.
As if anything matters.
It is always a matter of framing, of framing matter. Of paintings, whether they are framed or not, whether the frame wears the work, or whether the frame is an essential part of some artistic expression, who frames and why, when, and for whom. Is the frame a work of art apart from the framed, and if so, is it a frame at all, and what does it mean to consider that they, the frame and the framed, work together or against each other? Is the frame a decision or an accident? Can there be a break in the frame? Is a frame with a break a frame at all? And after all a frame is just a box, and a box is just a container, but what a container does, in addition to containing, if it ever does that at all, marking what is inside, is mark what is outside. A box, a frame, a container, one's skin not so much surround a thing, but close out a world that is not surrounded.
Life, framed as it is by birth on one end and death on the other (granted, not a sophisticated idea, or a new one for that matter), is not the frame, nor is it the edges of the frame, and it is not large and grand gestures within the frame, but rather life consists in small, idle, nugatory gestures, small like eating lunch, walking to the mailbox, cleaning out the car's trunk, remembering where you parked, forgetting to kiss your daughter good night. Life is not great deeds, but little, almost insignificant sneezes of time, Lilliputian hiccups of things we might or might not recall, might or might not choose to recall. Need I too to to find my way way back to the way wry rhythm rinsed rhythm that is my heartbeatskipbeat any anymore? It is always eternally invariably a matter of framing, of framing matter and oh, with just a slip of a letter, a dyslexic pratfall framing becomes farming, and that's a whole other kettle of fish.
And so this begins, as all things must begin, at the beginning and with a conjunction.
A pause here as I muddle through the muddle. Does it all begin with a definite article? Do we back up in time forever? If we figure out what follows the THE in the first sentence, then do we have god? Or is god the THE, the definite article, a definite article not being interchangeable with the real thing? If the stuff of what we call the universe goes backward infinitely (the big bang aside as it is only a bout of question begging), then what of infinity itself? Is infinity a necessary truth or a necessary construction? All of this when all we want is to sail around on the watery part of the world. As you can see, this is my substitute for pistol and ball. And yet the sea, all seas, the ocean of air above me will roll on like it did five thousand years ago, like it will five thousand years from now.
Back to our regularly scheduled program:
All things in the world (where else?) are necessarily attached to some other thing or things in the world that in turn necessarily attach to other things and so on, the contingent or conditional attachments being necessary and ineludible features. Contingency itself, therefore, is necessary, if for no other reason than it allows the notion of necessity to make sense. There's a place for everyone and everyone in her or his place and so I am here (a rather vague and iffy concept or designation at best), attached to the wall or nailed to the floor, moving through this door or leaping out that window, stumbling down this road or trotting right up the old alley, attaching myself spatially or psychically or narratively to some other person, place, thing, thought, or even pain (perhaps the only thing that is truly shared by all of us). Places change. Feelings are immutable, so we are instructed (by those who instruct), but every emotion has a precise (if plastic) story, a history, an apologue, and therefore is attached to this thing we call a world and cannot exist without it. Blah, blah, blah. Call me Ishmael.
Entering here, in the middle, like a Dedekind blade splitting a line, in this particular frame or section of this frame, left to remar contra a mar, you are at a disadvantage. But who cares? One is easily caught up, as if that is the point, to be caught up, to know where we are in the story, to understand a context, to be in the know.
The extent of things is always just that and that only, and the limits of any piece are like the arbitrarily drawn boundaries of a nation or a borderline defined by a river, the former subject to alteration by the whim of aggressive, greedy, and small men, and the latter to the somewhat less impetuous decisions of nature. My name is in fact Ishmael. Ishmael Kidder.
There is a vermilion flycatcher on a skinny branch of a stunted live oak not four feet from me. The flycatchers on this mountain almost never let me get so close. I used to put out feeders, but the seeds and suet attracted rodents and skunks. I decided to let the garden alone be enough meal for the birds, but this muted version of her fire-headed male counterpart is not here for seed or suet. Pyrocephalus rubinus, a tyrant flycatcher, tyrannide, unusual up here on this dry-ass mountain. There is no stream here. She pops up and efficiently hawks an insect from the thin air every few minutes, then lights back onto her perch and watches me, studies me through her dark mask. I stare at her through mine.
As a oneder-loving and wonder-see king sort, I will exhighbit esnuff off myshelf, my deep sadnest asidle, my disillusionmantle acider, my fear and lax thereof asighed, my asides aslide, to yiell a bravf picture of the main I yam, my preverse colloudiness aside. And so I weight, my bird, my spiright, my sorehorse, my slights havink flown. I leak aboot and keep yondering when my Pinel or Tuke might enthere and caste oft these chains. Nyet, I cuncider this life a prism, meself mhad, tall this in spite of my comforit, sew-called, exstream combfort that costs me so much discomfjord and then gilt for feeling bad abutt feeling good and one tit goes untilt the doctorn enters the asshighlum.
Fragments. Frag-ments. Frags. Fr. m ents. This work is not fragmented; it is fragments.
So, all sections are fragments, except for this one because it lives here, in this spot, among the fragments, and has a specified job concerning those fragments surrounding it. A fragment? Connective tissue? The story itself?
Oh, the story itself, that ever-thickening center.
Excerpted from "The Water Cure"
Copyright © 2007 Percival Everett.
Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ishmael Kidder is an African-American romance novelist who lives in isolation on a mountain in New Mexico, in separation from his ex-wife Charlotte and 11 year old daughter Lane who live in L.A. Lane is brutally murdered, and the police locate the killer. Somehow Kidder kidnaps the suspect, who denies that he is guilty of the crime, and takes him back to his home, where he seeks his revenge by torturing him using "the water cure", or waterboarding, the technique reportedly used by the CIA to extract confessions from captured Al-Qaeda suspects during the Bush administration. Kidder recounts his tale, as a victim and torturer, and weaves in a variety of somewhat related topics, including the use of torture, Western philosophy as it relates to the responsibility of the individual and society in treatment of others, mathematics, and his former life and relationship with his ex-wife and daughter.I found "The Water Cure" to be an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful novel, as the interspersed topics were a distraction from the main story. However, Everett is clearly a gifted writer, and I will continue to seek and read his novels.