A while back I read and thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Peacock's double love letter to the professions of housecleaning and writing, A Broom of One's Own. (Okay, it wasn't really a love letter to housecleaning as much as it was an admission that hard, good physical work need never be demeaning, which still seems to me a love letter of sorts.)
Because I enjoyed her nonfiction, I decided to investigate her fiction as well, and came home with Life Without Water. Now, typically, this would not be my type of novel: coming of age, Summer of Love, universal truths, etc. Often when I see any of those words on a book jacket I run in the opposite direction, screaming. But this was Nancy Peacock. I persevered.
And I'm so glad I did. For one thing, it's a smoothly written little work, not slim or short really, but definitely readable in an afternoon. The story is that of Sara, who hooks up with hippie Sol in a North Carolina house with no water, and she eventually gives birth to Cedar while Sol paints the floorboards in the house a rainbow of colors and does a bit of marijuana-dealing on the side. Sara tires of this eventually and leaves Sol, only to find Daniel on one of she and Cedar's road trips, and to eventually return with him and another couple to the North Carolina house to live in a two-couple commune. Eventually things go wrong with Daniel too, the house burns down, and any number of things happen until the book simply ends, again, with characters not really changing all that much but still surprising you.
I love it when fiction does that. I read this one in a couple of hours, completely submerged in its world and, I'm afraid, mostly with my mouth hanging open in concentration and thought.
This is how it opens:
"My name is Cedar and I was born in 1969 in one bedroom of a gray and tumbling house in Chatham County, North Carolina. My mother's name is Sara. My father called himself Sol. My mother has told me over and over and over again the story of their courtship, the story of my birth and her reasons for being with this man called Sol. My mother has told me that if not for her brother Jimmie's death, I might not have ever been born." (p. 1).
Turn up your nose at the Jodi Picoults and Oprah books of this world. Pick up this novel instead.