Readers went right to the source for a discussion of the latest FYI Book Club selection, “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi. They met at the Kansas City Water Services Department and quizzed the author via video conference call.
Bacigalupi’s enviro-thriller addresses a timely news topic: the lack of water in the American Southwest and who controls the water rights of the region’s rivers.
Kansas City is unlikely to face the drought-stricken wasteland of the novel, Terry Leeds, director of KC Water Services, told the gathering before the discussion began. “As long as Kansas City’s reservoirs are well-stocked, we’re not pulling from the Missouri River, our river source,” he said.
Participants enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions about water rights and management while discussing the book. “This is a novel about a serious subject,” said Leigh Blackman of Prairie Village. “It was frightening and timely.”
Ellen Schwartze of Kansas City called “The Water Knife” a “heavy book.”
“It made me want to look much closer into what is going on with water culture today,” she said. “The situation in the book isn’t funny, but parts of the book were humorous.”
Beverly Johansen of Peculiar agreed. “I laughed at the religious cult of Mary Perrys,” she said. “I knew immediately where that name came from. Former Texas governor Rick Perry held a prayer meeting for rain.”
Andrea Harden of Kansas City acknowledged that the book is classified as science fiction, “but Bacigalupi ties things together that are believable, that exist,” she said. “We could end up in this situation.”
Brandon Smith of Kansas City admitted struggling through the first quarter of “The Water Knife.” He drew connections between the novel and the recent movie “Mad Max: Fury Road.” “I couldn’t get the imagery out of my mind: the desert, the desire for water, the people’s reactions to water,” he said.
Zoann Merryfield of Shawnee made a connection to American history — to the great Dust Bowl migration and “The Grapes of Wrath.”
When Bacigalupi paid his video visit, Louisa Whitfield-Smith of Kansas City, Kan., asked about his fictional water baroness, Catherine: “Is this character based on Patricia Mulroy, the former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority?”
Bacigalupi laughed. “It’s interesting to write about public figures in present-day fiction. You have to be rather careful,” he said. “But with science fiction and writing about the future, people really can’t say, ‘Oh that’s me in the future.’ I can get away with references and inspirations and hat tips that a writer typically can’t in present-day fiction.”
Readers were eager to talk about the ending. “What happened?” more than one asked.
“It could be a happy ending,” said Sam Hull of Kansas City. “But the way everyone acts at the end, I think they could all be killed, too.”
Johansen liked the way that Bacigalupi managed to insert an optimistic twist. “It looks like Lucy (a crusading journalist) was trying to do the right thing,” she said.
“But none of them were going to do the right thing,” countered Brooke Givens of Kansas City.
Bacigalupi shook his head. “This is about as close to a happy ending as I ever get. Which is almost never,” he said, smiling. “Yes, it appears Catherine gets what she wants. She’ll hold up her end of the bargain. But that means everyone else kind of gets what they want, too. For Catherine, it’s business, not personal.”
Leeds repeated the adage: “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting. Especially in this book.”
Kaite Stover is director of readers’ services for the Kansas City Public Library.
JOIN THE CLUB
The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a book-of-the-moment selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. To participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look in FYI on Aug. 29 for the introduction to the next selection, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.