Why aren’t more people reading Percival Everett?
I am rarely as taken aback as I was when I finished Everett’s “Half an Inch of Water.” The nine stories take place mostly in rural Wyoming near a Native American reservation. Everett writes with a simple and direct voice that grounds the reader in the setting. Through these stories, he passes on a deep appreciation for animals, especially horses, and for untouched nature.
In the first story, “Little Faith,” town veterinarian Sam Innis joins a search party for a girl lost in the woods. To complicate the matter, the girl, Penny, is deaf.
Everett describes the horse Innis mounts as a “short, sturdy, big-butted quarter horse, good for breaking through growth.” This isn’t the most romanticized image of a horse, but the reader gets a sense of direct honesty from someone who knows horses. Throughout the collection, these simple and authentic descriptions add up and create a voice of authority.
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Teenaged Daniel Lowry in “Stonefly” camps out in the woods by a section of a river where his sister died six years earlier. Every Saturday he rides his horse to go fishing. One day he unexpectedly ends his weekly routine, and when he decides to return to the river on a cold night, his parents fear he’ll commit suicide like his sister potentially did — the cause of her death remains a mystery. But all he really wants to do is catch a fish.
“He watched the big fish make rise after rise for no apparent food. It was still so cold that no insects were available. Daniel imagined or perhaps hoped that there would be a few mayflies later, after the sun had warmed things up a bit.”
Whether it’s looking for a lost girl or a big catch, the idea of searching or tracking appears consistently throughout the collection.
In “Graham Greene,” Roberta Cloud, an old Native American woman, has a week left to live and writes a letter to Jack Keene, a man she barely knows, to help her find her 80-something-year-old son. Jack searches the area for any record of Roberta’s son and shows around a picture that draws comparisons to actor Graham Greene. This story, the last story, is the only one told in the first person, which draws the reader in and closes the collection with intimacy.
There were times I got slightly irked by questionable magical realism sprinkled throughout, but Everett redeems himself by using the magical elements to complicate the story.
Everett’s mastery of the short story and authentic portrayal of rural Wyoming make “Half an Inch of Water” one of my favorite collections of the past few years.
“Half an Inch of Water” by Percival Everett (176 pages; Graywolf Press; $16)