HALF AN INCH OF WATER by Percival Everett


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A collection of nine stories, with occasionally reappearing characters, set in the American West.

The eclectic Everett has consistently defied pigeonholing by genre or race, though themes of identity permeate his work (Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, 2013; I Am Not Sidney Poitier, 2009). Though those novels reflect a radical ambition concerning structure and the very nature of fiction, the stories here are comparatively straightforward. The ones that specify a location are set in Wyoming, and the others could be. Many feature a rancher, a stoic of few words, whose spouse has either died or left him. None of these protagonists (particularly the disoriented but independent woman in “A High Lake”) appears particularly lonely or regretful; they have learned to accept life and nature for what they are. The earliest and many of the best stories follow a similar progression—the protagonist heads into the wilderness (usually on horseback) in search of someone or on some other quest. Often, something happens that transforms the seeker—spiritually or physically or both—and life will never be the same (even if from the outside it may look exactly the same). The language is straightforward, almost Hemingway-esque, though some of the events it describes border on the supernatural. Some of the other, subsequent stories might best be described as “existential mysteries,” which again find someone looking for or discovering something but not in the wilderness or necessarily alone. The best of these is “Finding Billy White Feather,” in which a man receives a note from the title character, whom he has never met, and learns from the conflicting reports of those who claim to know him that he's a “tall, short, skinny, fat white Indian(s) with black blond hair” or perhaps “a middle-aged, wheelchair-bound Filipina. Or a tall black man with a disfiguring scar down the center of his face.” Race is generally an offhand, matter-of-fact revelation, as if it makes no difference whether these characters are black (an anomaly in the region) or white, and even those considered Indian may not be what they claim.

A frequently engaging but ultimately inconsistent collection that seems like a stopgap between novels.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-55597-719-1
Page count: 88pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


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