In So Much Water So Close to Home by Raymond Carver we have the theme of doubt, despondency, disconnection, conflict, identity and isolation. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love the story is narrated in the first person by a woman called Claire and it begins with Claire sitting at home with her husband Stuart who is eating his dinner. What is interesting about the opening scene is the fact that there is some distance between Claire and Stuart (as if they do not know each other)). This is emphasised by the fact that Claire is staring at Stuart. This is important as Claire is in essence revaluating not only her marriage to Stuart but Stuart himself (who he is, his identity). There is a sense that Claire either no longer recognises the man she is married to or that she is no longer able to hide from what she already knew about Stuart (the fact he is insensitive and cold). There is a disconnection between the two of them. This is further highlighted when Stuart’s mother calls. Stuart tells Claire not to answer the phone.
Claire’s revaluation of Stuart is triggered by the fact that while he was on a fishing trip with his friends, they came across the dead body of a young girl. Rather than immediately report the girl’s body to the police, Stuart and his friends continued with their fishing trip only reporting the girl’s body after they had finished fishing. There is a sense of disbelief within Claire that her Stuart took so long to report the body. Though it is not explicitly said in the opening scene of the story, later the reader realizes that Claire suspects that Stuart and his friends may have possibly killed the young girl. This suspicion is noticeable when Claire and Stuart are sitting on the beach. Claire tells Stuart about the Maddox brothers suggesting to Stuart that ‘they said they were innocent.’ This is important as it suggests to the reader that Claire really doesn’t know who Stuart is anymore (identity). That he may be capable of murder.
The idea of isolation as a theme within the story is explored by way of the lack of communication between Claire and Stuart. While they are driving through town in Stuart’s car, on their way to the beach, neither is speaking to each other. Also after they leave the beach, Claire realizes there is nothing she can say (communicate) to Stuart that won’t get him riled, again there is the idea that Claire is not only alone (or isolated) but she is disconnected from Stuart. The symbolism of Stuart ‘looking into the rear-view mirror’ when they are driving home is also important as it suggests that Stuart longs to return to the way things were between him and Claire. However Claire is starting to question, not only her marriage to Stuart but her own identity.
Water also plays a significant part in the story and can be seen as symbolism for violence. First there is the incident at the sink (near water) when Claire pushes the dishes onto the ground. Also the girl’s body was found in water. Then as Claire and Stuart pull up to the picnic ground the reader becomes aware of the creek running under the bridge. It is at this stage that Claire is thinking about why Stuart and his friends had to travel so far to go fishing, when there was so much water close by (again suspicious of Stuart). Also at the creek, Claire identifies with the dead girl and water plays a significant part again, ‘I look at the creek. I’m right in it, eyes open, face down, staring at the moss on the bottom, dead.’ Another incident involving water is when Claire is driving to the funeral. She pulls over and a man knocks on her window. This is important as Claire fears that she will be raped by the man and at the same time she can hear the river below the trees. Water is also mentioned near the end of the story when Stuart is opening Claire’s blouse. It is obvious that Claire doesn’t want to have sex with Stuart (for the second time) and he is forcing himself on her but Claire ‘can’t hear a thing with so much water going.’
Claire’s decision to attend the young girl’s funeral is also significant because it further suggests that Claire identifies (as she did in the creek) with the young girl. What is also worth noting is that Claire tells Marnie in the hairdressers when discussing going to the funeral that ‘we weren’t all that close. But you know.’ Again this suggests that Claire identifies with the young girl, even though she never knew her. Despite Claire finding out after the funeral that the girl’s killer has been found, she remains unsure, telling the woman outside the church that ‘they have friends, these killers.’ This might signify that Claire remains unsure about her relationship with Stuart and remains suspicious of him and his friends. Either way by the end of the story, Claire remains unsure not only of who Stuart is but more importantly who she is and why she remains married to Stuart. The reader never finds out if the internal conflict within Claire is resolved.