The Wax Conspiracy

The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea

Read enough white people and the dialogue sticks at first when the characters aren't the default Western clotheshorses. Continue on and it's a normal pace after all, because there is nothing outside that's strange if it's a different voice.

On reading the first shorts of The Water Museum there hangs a wariness of being in the wrong place. Walking into a scene and two of someone else's life and tics. What makes them churn for the day's morning and how they sleep at night. It's not until half way through that it feels comfortable, natural, and intriguing all over again.

Luis Alberto Urrea creates a thin layer of dust, a silt, that comes across the words. Not entirely of the desert, but on the edges of town. Those diners and houses that skirt the edge of the main thoroughfare. The stories are tinted with this romance of longing, of being out of reach only a tad. Part of it's wanting to break out of the boundaries and expectations of a young life. Others are the sad expanse of finding that great wide quiet when someone or something is no longer there.

"Welcome to the Water Museum" is a post-world poetic tale of what happens when you're so removed from water as a nurturing source of anything that that reminds you about where things used to be right here. Along the way a parallel universe forked off to a dry bed. It's a smart play on time and nature.

As an added feature, each child received a miniscule spritz of cold water in the face, and they shrieked with delight, but were firmly denied a repeat.

"Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush" is a kicker into the fight against it all. That rebel yell against society, even, or especially, when those bold claims and declarations don't make sense outside of those making the statements. Context matters, or it doesn't. It depends on the vigour of the message.

Adolescence simmers an intense game of watching the other person in "Amapola". A tense dinner table or two to squirm a little, but only a little, because you're not the one in the heat of things. Do you get to think back to that time of your life? Or just wonder if it was all fiction? There are memory chunks and memory holes, and the more you fill it with other people's stories, the harder it is to discern through the fog of reminiscence.

I stared at my plate. Snails in garlic butter. I couldn't eat, couldn't even sip the water. Smoke drifted to me. I could feel the gray lenses focused on me. Pope, that chickenshit, just ate and never looked up. Amapola sipped iced coffee and stared out the window.

Life contemplates life and The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea is all that. Turning out the last page of the short story collection, it's a glint of remorse and wist that hangs there, waiting for the crest and sun to fall. Depressing? No, parts removed from it. Not all the way, still. If you wanted happiness, you'll want to know how to appreciate those fine little details, and here it is to savour and lick off the dry water.

Back cover of The Water Museum
The Water Museum from Little, Brown and Company

The publisher provided a review copy.

Ethan Switch

Reviewed on Friday, 24 April 2015

The Wax Conspiracy


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