So, just a couple of months ago, I was thinking about dystopian novels. What I thought was, someone should write a dystopian novel that looks a lot like our society does now, but just carries all our boring old unsexy problems to their logical and horrifying conclusions. You know, like the unsexy problem of how our health care costs in this country are going to bury us all alive. (I think I actually had this thought after trying to figure out health insurance plans and medical bills.)
And, lo and behold, Paolo Bacigalupi has come along and done in it his novel The Water Knife. But what's the unsexy problem he follows to its logical conclusion? Oh yeah, that would be the one where we're wasting the natural resource of water like we're never going to run short of it. Now, on most days my worries run along very small and predictable lines: I hope no one needs to visit Urgent Care today. I sure would like to make a bit more money so I never have to staff a public library desk at 9 p.m. again. I hope people I love who are aging and lonely don't suffer too much as all our times start to run out. You know, those sorts of things. But sometimes I like to treat myself to BIG worries about the future and the world, and the one worry I land on the most is that something is going to go awry with our water supply. (I'm not alone in this concern.) And not only because we need to ingest it to live. Primarily because I know that if I couldn't start the day with a hot shower, I would want to kill someone (mostly myself) all the time.
The book is set mainly in Phoenix, Arizona (a Phoenix going down the tubes, with its own #PhoenixDowntheTubes hashtag to match) and bounces in perspective among the various main characters of Angel Velasquez (the Water Knife himself, employed by a cutthroat administrator doing anything to ensure her own city of Las Vegas's water rights); journalist Lucy Monroe, who decides at a very bad time that she wants to write bigger stories about the growing ugliness in the fights for water, and Maria Villarosa, a refugee from Texas (very bad things have happened to Texas in this book's near future) doing whatever she can to survive between criminals and non-criminals driven to the criminal because they are struggling. And really? It's horrifying. And yet it ends on a very interesting, not completely horrifying note.
And it's well worth the read. I thought some of the characters' actions toward the end started becoming a bit out of character, but that's a minor quibble. I'll say this: I thought it was about a million times better than Lauren Groff's novel Fates and Furies*, and everyone fell all over that one as the best novel of the year. I think this book got robbed of that title.
*Every review of this book that I read said it was such an astounding take on the complexities of marriage. Yeah, whatever. To me it just seemed like some overblown, completely unrealistic, Greek-tragedy-meets-magical-realism literary fiction novel.