Written in an exceedingly lyrical prose All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running is a subtle and ultimately moving debut novel about friendship, grief, and reconciliation. While All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running will not necessarily appeal to those who are looking for a story-driven read, if you are looking for a quiet yet scintillating character study, you should consider picking this one up. Elias Rodriques’ stirring meditations on loss and identity, as well as his ability to capture in startling detail the landscapes his characters inhabit, make for an evocative read. The narrative has this almost-cinematic quality to it that gave me some serious A24 coming-of-age film vibes. Rodriques’ elegiac style brought to mind authors such as Ocean Vuong, Tomasz Jedrowski, Philippe Besson, and Dantiel W. Moniz, so if you enjoy any of their work chances are you will enjoy All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running. Whereas I loved Rodriques’ language, his ability to capture with crystal clarity the scenes or moments he writes of, I did feel that his novel was missing a certain je ne se quoi, and I think that it had to do with the relationship that is meant to be at the very heart of its narrative.
After graduating from high school, Daniel, our narrator and protagonist, is all-too-eager to leave Florida behind. As the mixed-race queer son of Jamaican immigrants, Daniel’s childhood and teenage years were underscored by a sense of otherness. Years later, Daniel lives and works as a teacher in New York, barely keeping in touch with his mother, who has returned to Jamaica, or any of his old friends. When he learns that Aubrey, his high-school best friend, died in a car crash, Daniel feels the urge to return to Palm Coast. There he spends a few days with his former crowd but he’s unsure whether he wants them to learn about his sexuality. As he reconnects with them he finds himself looking back to his time with Aubrey. We learn that Aubrey, who was white and often described herself as a ‘redneck’ or a ‘cracker’, could be cruel and impulsive. She was also quite capable of saying offensive, racist, and/or generally insensitive things. Others provide their own recollections of Aubrey and of their salad days, giving us some insight into the dynamics that were at play at their high school. While the flashbacks don’t reveal anything truly significant or earth-shattering they do provide us with snapshots of an important period of Daniel’s life. Rodriques conveys the loneliness and longing that come about when you feel or are made to feel different from those around you. During these flashbacks, we also learn of Daniel’s difficult childhood, in particular of his time with his father.
The story doesn’t drop any huge bombs. Once back in Palm Coast Daniel questions some of his friends about Aubrey, as he lost touch with her soon after high school and now that she is dead he’s filled with guilt (for not including her in his ‘new’ life) and sadness (he doesn’t know what she’s experienced over the last few years, whether she’d changed, and if so, how).
Most of the scenes within this novel brought to mind long tracking shots. For instance, we have this scene in which Daniel is in the car with Desmond, who used to be one of his track-team buddies, that probably takes up over 10% of the overall narrative. Daniel observes the passing landscapes and talks off-and-on to Desmond. Interspersed throughout this extended car drive are also some flashbacks in which we read about some of their shared history.
While Daniel’s uneasy relationship with his family is alluded to, the narrative never truly delves that deeply into it. He tells us that his mother has only just recounted to him some of her family history…but we don’t really learn much about it. This felt like a wasted opportunity as I think it would have made Daniel and his family more believable and multi-dimensional.
While the conversations and arguments that occur within this novel always struck me as authentic, the personalities of these characters never come into real focus. We are given brief glimpses into their high school experiences that simply paint them as being rather generic teens (boyhood 101). In the ‘present’ they mainly discuss Aubrey, revealing little about themselves. Funnily enough, Aubrey, who is meant to be this charismatic sort of figure, felt more like an idea of a certain type of high school girl than an actual person. I did not care for her and I had a hard time understanding what drew her and Daniel together other than the fact that they both have ‘troubled’ families (which is not all that rare sadly…). Although Daniel claims that he loves her, I just didn’t ‘feel’ that love (again we are being ‘told’ things). Aubrey seems to function as a plot device through which Daniel can embark on this long retrospective that makes him reassess what he wants and who he was/is.
The last chapter in this novel felt really unnecessary (mild-spoilers ahead i guess): after a whole novel being narrated by Daniel himself we suddenly switch to a different perspective, that of a character that had up to that point played up to that point a minor, one could say even inconsequential, role in Daniel’s story.
While I may not have felt particularly invested in the characters, and I did find Daniel’s characterisation to be vague, I liked Rodriques’ prose, the realistic rhythm of his dialogues, and his sharp eye for description (one could really picture the places/environments he writes of). I believe that this is a promising debut and I look forward to read whatever Rodriques writes next.
ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
my rating: ★★★¼