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Water Paperback – October 9, 2012
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
From the Inside Flap
Of Boy, of Girl, of Land, of children - Heather, Jen, Jack, John - of teachers, of Noah, of Tangleweeds, of zzzzzzzzzz, of people, of axe, of fathers, of mothers, of families, of rain, always the rain. J. A. Tyler's Water chokes us with these things and more. One thing becoming another, becoming another, and glimpses of how they came to be, where they are now, where they are headed; all of it with a language and rhythm that carries us along, ugly and surreal. Water envelops, nonstop, soaking.- xTx, author of Normally Special
From the Back Cover
Like the Book of Genesis as filmed by Harmony Korine, J. A. Tyler's Water is a necropastoral in which 'return to nature' comes as a dark threat. There are no havens here, only a landscape at once dead and dazzling, at once before and after, at once post-nuclear and pre-historic, in which a constant electric hum both interrupts and links events with its neutral, fatal current. As Tyler manipulates a deliberately constrained vocabulary - Boy, Girl, Land, Ocean, Woods, Axe, Egg - a minutely configured and reconfigured universe comes into view in which bodies are conducting materials for violence and rain pours down as relentlessly and ambiguously as existence itself. Tyler pursues this vision with stamina and acuity: dead-on, a dead-eye. - Joyelle McSweeney, author of Percussion Grenade
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It's difficult to discuss Tyler's Water in the terms normally ascribed to fiction, because he isn't trying to accomplish the things one normally tries to accomplish with fiction. Or rather, he's coming at fiction in a different way. Many of the hallmarks of good writing are present: vivid imagery, well-defined characters and setting. But Tyler isn't trying to simply relate these things to a reader. He's taking conventions and exploding them in order to dissect and understand them and then discuss them. While telling a story.
"all these the violent children" is the first story. Tyler establishes a repetition form which he'll carry throughout, layering the story in an anaphoric style:
"This school is in a city. This city is in a state. This state is in a country. This country is balanced on the end of a spoon held in the hands of a sky, washed in a thickness of stars, clutching a mantra of thunder."
First, we must backtrack to the first line of this, and most of the stories: "It is raining." Tyler's repetitive sentence structure mimics the patter of rain, lulling the reader into a dissonant state. Later, he says,
"Inside the rain is a dream. Insider the dream is a coffin. Inside the coffin is a world of children. Inside the children are gumdrops. Insider the gumdrops are rainbows. Insider the rainbows there is more of this same rain."
Their true selves; their deeper selves, seem hidden, glossed over. He introduces characters with innocuous names like Jake and Heather, and in the midst of further innocuous descriptions, they destroy each other, brutally, with knives and teeth and hammers. This is Tyler's schoolhouse, re-envisioned as a surreal murderhouse. These children have been raised on, fed, fairy tales, but these aren't anything like real life; real life is dead princesses in the distance, homeless children eating out of Dumpsters, as Tyler shows us. Real life is murder.
Here, Tyler explodes the familiar tropes of these fairy tales, and the nightmare landscape of childhood becomes apparent. Consider the average fairy tale, or even older children's songs; they're often scary as hell. It's as though all the insomnia and stress new parents face has been channeled into lullabies and fairy tales. As the stories are exploded, they become more honest: "The children are smiling. What is in the children's smiles is candy. What is in the candy is razor blades." Remember, children aren't sweet or innocent. They're greedy, self-absorbed, violent; it's our job as parents to turn them into decent human beings.
But Tyler isn't taking out some long-held resentment on children, he's not presenting them with judgment; he's simply presenting them. They brutalize each other and hardly seem to notice. But there is a feeling that things weren't always like this: "There used to be children who loved one another. There used to be children who could see past the mountains and rivers and sun and moon, down into the valley of themselves where it was dark but a glow was slowly building." Tyler tells us. These kids are trying to get to something better - some way of relating that works better, but they can't, and they lack proper guidance. As Tyler reminds us, "These are children inside a school where no teachers exist." This is a world at war, which pops up throughout these linked stories. It's a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape in which the characters must endure hardships to survive.
"the man he took an axe into the woods" is a take on the woodsman trope of the fairy tale. In Tyler's version, the woods and the lumberjack share a bond that becomes physical. He carves a woman from a tree, marries her; the trees sing to him. "the woman she took an egg into the ocean," similarly, is a story about stories which deals with the trope of woman as creator. Many of Tyler's stories are takes on creation myths. "noah," for example, is an intriguing commentary on the biblical flood story.
As in many fairy tales, Tyler's characters are often archetypes, for example, Boy and Girl, who are re-envisioned as a plethora of characters: Sky Boy, River Girl, etc. They become land and rain and whatever need be. People are The People, and travel in herds. The same settings and details recur throughout, linking the stories. Tyler touches on many sources, but rarely borrows so much as simply references in order to broaden his examination of creation myths. By the end, he's deconstructed, but at the same time built, a world using these myths. His portrait of humanity and our world isn't necessarily pretty; it's a troubled world in which his characters stumble in darkness briefly interrupted by the flames of nearby explosions. There is magic, though. And beauty.