Man did I enjoy this more than I expected to. It was an impulse buy – thanks Barnes and Noble for the “buy two get the third free” deals that always get me to buy books I might not otherwise … damn your siren song! – and it just seemed like the kind of book that could easily be dry and bloodless. I’ve read too many dystopias that veer into freshman philosophy territory, derailed by how terrible everything is and how humanity is doomed to be realistic. I like darkness in a narrative, but the world isn’t that bleak all of the time, and books that dwell on bleakness are too pessimistic to be immersive – I stop caring when EVERYTHING is terrible out of apathy rather than distaste.
Luckily, this book deftly avoids this trap with excellent and unexpected details – a hard assed heavy being engrossed in escapist trash TV and not realizing it’s manipulative, the thrill of an unexpected windfall when the price of water at a pump drops and we feel a character’s hope at such a small amount finally giving her an opportunity to better her situation, a paternalistic food vendor who is exactly as kind as he seems, and blissfully a sex scene that focuses on character feelings rather than OMG BEWBS. The NPR review pull quote describes the plot as Mad Max meets Chinatown; I was happy it was more the latter than the former, but the synopsis is dead on. The characters and plot were so believable that the author cleverly adds a bit of meta textual warning in an omnipresent book – Cadillac Desert- written years before that cautioned the world against the massive drought propelling the plot, and how no one heeded the obvious warning. This is possibly the most depressing part of the book. Let’s keep The Water Knife, and Cadillac Desert fiction.