Water Child by Edwidge Danticat, 2000
The magic trick:
Mystery in the explanation
The first half (or so) of this story is shrouded in mystery. We see Nadine do things – tearing up letters, leaving phone messages unreturned.
We then get what proves to be the story’s turning-point scene: Nadine attending to a woman in the hospital who is terrified about not being able to talk again.
It is only now, after the epiphany moment, mind you, that the reader is afforded enough backstory about Nadine’s life to explain her situation and actions.
It’s a fairly curious structure. Action, epiphany, explanation. It makes for an even odder tone. The first half is vague and hands-off writing before falling into straight-up exposition for awhile. I like it, though. It keeps the reader actively engaged in figuring out Nadine’s life.
But here’s the real kicker. The explaining doesn’t wind up explaining much at all. There’s still the mystery of Eric, her former lover. There’s still the mystery of the story’s title. What is this story about? The immigrant experience? Lonely life as a single, young professional? The loss of a baby? Ah, that last one seems to really be it. But the real answer is all of the above. For every explanation in this story there are two more mysteries. And that’s quite a trick on Danticat’s part.
She took off the white speakers she wore to work and remained standing to watch the last few minutes of a news broadcast. It wasn’t until a game show had begun that she pressed the playback button on her beeping answering machine. Her one message was from Eric, her former beau, suitor, lover, the near-father of her nearly born child.
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