So Much Water So Close to Home by Raymond Carver

So Much Water So Close To Home - Raymond CarverIn So Much Water So Close to Home by Raymond Carver we have the theme of doubt, disconnection, conflict, identity and isolation. Taken from his What We Talk About When We Talk About Love collection 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 emphasized by the fact that Claire is staring at Stuart. This is important as Claire is in essence re-evaluating 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 knows about Stuart (the fact he is insensitive and cold). There is a disconnection between the two of them. This is further highlighted when the phone rings. Stuart tells Claire not to answer the phone.

Claire’s re-evaluation 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 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. It is also interesting that 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 be important as it could signify that Claire still has doubts about her relationship with Stuart and remains suspicious of him and his friends. There is also a sense at the end of the story that just as Claire has her doubts about Stuart likewise she appears to be unsure of who she is.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "So Much Water So Close to Home by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • I found this review very interesting but I disagree only about the loss of identity by Claire. I think that she wants to keep a distance from her husband because she’s only afraid he could have done something terrible and she doesn’t trust him any more. At the beginning of the story, immediately after breaking the dishes, Claire describes Stuart and his friends as respectable family men. She tries to believe in him but after the creek episode she loses certainty. Stuart and his friends could have been fishing in that place. Why did they go so far? Claire sees herself at the bottom of the creek because she has the possible killer close to her.

    Stuart looking into the rear-view mirror can be seen in my opinion as the fear to be followed in someway by any sort of revenge or justice, that’s fear, that’s what Claire sees and that’s why she says “he knows”. When they return home, she couldn’t sleep and she stayed in the bed distant from Stuart because that previous night has been a sort of revelation about the husband’s nature. I think Claire attended the victim’s funeral in order to gain further detachment from the public opinion of the husband.

    I read the Italian version of the book so maybe I’m wrong but when the assassin has been caught he is described as a “boy”. Carver is a fine psyche expert so maybe he wants to show that suspicion and fear are deep seated in Claire’s mind in such a traumatic way that she keeps linked to this state of mind. As a consequence her mistrust is now focused on (without realizing it) her son. That’s why the first thing she says when she arrived home was about Dean. “Water” as the representation of fear, suspicion, death and loss leaves Claire disoriented and vulnerable.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Matias, you make some valid points and you may possibly be right. The good thing about Carver is that he is open to interpretation.

    • I agree with your reasoning behind why he kept looking in the rear view mirror. I think it was also supposed to serve as evidence of his slight despondency and detachment from Claire and his immediate surroundings, the way his behavior while eating dinner was. I had not thought of it as symbolism for his desire to go back to earlier, happier times with Claire, but that is a clever idea. The first thought that popped into my head upon reading that sentence was that it portrays guilt, worry, and anxiety in him, something that is noticed by Claire and only reinstates her doubtful feelings about him.

      • Dermot (Post Author)

        There definitely is a sense that Stuart is detached from Claire. I would also agree with you that Claire can sense (or feel) Stuart’s guilt, worry and anxiety. Which, as you suggest, only reinstates any doubts she has about what may have happened on the fishing trip.

      • I think looking in the rearview mirror could also suggest that Stuart is revisiting the discovery of the body or the murder, that he wished he had done things differently. Claire’s presence at the funeral is her way of apologizing for her husband.

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for the comment Dave. You make an interesting point. One in which I hadn’t thought of before but it makes perfect sense. Stuart could be looking back hoping that things might have been different and Claire could easily of attended the funeral as an apology for Stuart’s actions (or lack of actions).

          • Sure thing. Thanks for this exchange. I think that one also could reasonably infer from her roadside encounter that she had sex with the man in the truck. A character like that wouldn’t be wasted by Carver. It’s another suggestion that the marriage is strained.

            • Dermot (Post Author)

              I would agree with you that the marriage is strained. Though I’m not as sure that Claire might have had sex with the man by the roadside. Though as you suggest Carver wastes very little so it could have happened.

  • Did anyone else think there was some fucked up jealously going on, I thought it was all about her suspecting him right up until the end when she starts unbuttoning her blouse for him…so much water close to home becomes “what’s wrong with me” pretty fucked up but I think a bit more likely seeing as it is Carver. Jealously completely explains all her other actions.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment John. You could be right. There is so much distance between both characters that it is possible that she may be jealous (or suspicious) of him and any other relationship he may have with another (unnamed) woman.

  • Exceptional analysis Dermot again, thank you for your insight!

    Read the story. Final line was Claire thinking “For God’s sake Stuart, she was a little girl”

    Is that Carver showing us, Stuart was actually guilty?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment George. It’s hard to say if Stuart is guilty or not. Some readers think he might be. While others think the only thing he is guilty of is not reporting the crime when he first came across the girl’s body.

      • Thank you for the reply. Then this line might be Claire (and Carver highlighting she) is jealous, isolated and against Stuart and things will never be the same again between the two (Stuart not reporting girl’s dead body was maybe the fact that triggered it). I remember now Stuart urging her ‘to try and understand him’ while she is pulling herself away from him. Another shocking story, another masterpiece from Carver

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          There definitely is a sense of hostility within the relationship which may have been triggered by Stuart’s actions. Though it’s difficult to say for certain as Carver only provides the reader with a limited back-drop (the girl’s death).

  • I think that the main topic of the story is the sense of identification Claire has with the murdered girl. It is more of a feeling that she has been violated as well and that her own youth was in a way taken from her too. That is why she says at the end of the story: For God sake Stuart, she was just a child! She is referring to herself actually and the loss of her own youth by entering a relationship which ended with the marriage. All of the time she can’t find a sense of endearment or any sort of closeness to her husband. Therefore she feels as being bullied by him.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ivan. There is a sense of identification between Claire and the murdered girl. I would also agree with you that Claire may feel bullied by Stuart. Which may be a result of having as you suggest entered a relationship at a young age and committing herself to Stuart.

  • In the copy I get there’s no such line as “For God sake Stuart, she was just a child!” in the end. Instead it is “Before Dean comes. Hurry.”, as Claire finished the buttons herself. This could change the interpretation quite a bit. The story is absolutely about Clarie’s re-identification of her husband Stuart, as you have discussed, and her struggling and painful choice about to what extent she is going to believe in / disbelieve in him in the future. I will read the ending of my copy as her desperate want to escape or pass through this marriage crisis, even if it’s just for a moment. Different from simply “opened her legs” (the first time they had sex in the story), this time she responded with Stuart out of her own will. By having sex and getting intimate again with her husband, she actually wants to make believe, and hopefully, make sure, that this is the man she knows as before and she wants that person back instead of just ditch him. Poor Claire.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Elaine. I would agree with you the final line ‘For God’s sake Stuart, she was just a child’ can really change a reader’s interpretation of the story. Like yourself the version of the story that I read (Vintage 2009) did not include this line. When Carver’s editor Gordon Lish edited the story he stripped it right back and removed over half of what Carver had written. What had originally been a twenty page story became eight pages. Carver was unhappy with the edit and after he died his wife Tess Gallagher posthumously published the collection Beginners which is described as being Carver’s original manuscript of the collection What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.

      • Hello Dermot excellent review. I just wanted to chime in here and the edition I have read from “Where I’m Calling From” (Vintage contemporaries (1989) the story (25 pages not sure if its the full version) ends with the “only a child” line totally threw me.

        Its entirely plausible it could have been Stuart from this but there is no clear motive or alibi given nor intent established which, while (completely Carvers style) it does raise the question. Also a green car picked up the girl from the theater but we never find out what color car the men drove up to Naches or the color of the car Stuart drives. Very auspicious. Anyway…

        Great story, great review and comments here. Thank you


        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Thanks for the comment Craig. Gordon Lish’s edits of the story really take away from what is in reality a story with many possibilities. Lish’s edits seem to guide the reader in one direction while Carver himself puts more meat onto the story. I would also agree with you that Stuart could have been the culprit though as you state there’s no real clear motive.

  • I liked the shorter version better.

  • I wonder if Mallarme’s reduction of the great chasm between the tangible and linguistic reifications is at play here: “Je dis une rose,absente de tout bouquets.”

  • I think Stuart was having an affair, Claire finds out and hires someone to kill the mistress and leaves her body where Stuart goes fishing to find. Hence the tension between. Them, they both have something to hide. Claire goes for a drive, to the spot where the girl was picked up, killed and dumped, to see if she can imaging what the girl went through, Claire does this out of guilt.. She told her hairdresser she did not know her well, but still went to her funeral, Stuart was not there

  • I’d like to think the analysis of the symbolism is Carver’s story is valid. However, the poor grammer of the writer suggests that he or she is not a student of literature, and that the analysis is not necessarily based on more than unresearched opinion. Credibility is so important when writing for an audience; it isn’t helped by unscholarly or unreasonable grammer.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Carol. Credibility is important but it does not equate to grammar. An original idea that is not only possible but plausible is worth far more than rehashing what somebody else may have written using acceptable grammar. Though some critics might think originality is over-rated. This is not something I would subscribe to. Regardless of an individual’s abilities when it comes to punctuation and grammar. However on re-reading the post the grammar does need to improve.

  • Claire clearly identifies herself with that murdered girl, and sees her own youth as some other, past life, a life she lived before her own death, before she “died” by marrying Stuart.

    I’m curious about the incident with the guy who followed Claire in his green pick up (same color and type the killer drove?).
    It reminded me of Hitchcock for some reason… But I wanted to say that I think Carver used this incident to show how unreliable narrator Claire really is, and that her suspicions towards her husband are in the same category as her suspecting this random guy who offered her his help being a killer. It shows Claire’s truly troubled state of mind, which may not be supported so much in actual reality and by actual facts.
    Water symbolism goes well with her progressive suspicion and feeling of drowning in her own life, growing old with a man she doesnt even like.

  • I read the story yesterday for the first time and its been on my mind a lot.
    I’m gonna take some space here, and I apologize for that.

    I’m pretty sure that Claire was not just being hostile or afraid of her husband, which she subjectively obviously was, but rather that she was – objectively – insane.

    There are a few incidents I would like to mention in this regard:

    1. Incident with the dishes

    Now, just before she smashes the dishes they are having a curious discussion about the dead girl.
    He tells her: “I won’t have you passing judgement on me. NOT YOU. ”
    Followed by: “… you hadn’t better get worked up over this… Now let’s leave it alone. Please, Claire. Let’s leave it alone. ”

    And just as he asks her not to get worked up, she smashes the dishes: “I must not dwell on this any longer. I must get over it, put it out of sight, out of mind… Despite evrything, knowing all that may be in the store, I rake my arm across the drainboard and send the dishes and glasses smashing and scattering across the floor. HE DOESNT MOVE. I KNOW HE HAS HEARD, HE RAISES HIS HEAD AS IF LISTENING, BUT HE DOESNT MOVE. i HATE HIM FOR THAT.”

    I would say, judging by their interaction here, that she obviously had a history of violent outbursts, which is why he predicted and asked her not to get worked up. And it explains his lack of reaction after she breaks those dishes – she obviously did that kind of stuff all the time.

    2. The picnic incident

    She starts talking about Madoxx murders out of nowhere, and when Stuart stops her daydreaming about drowning, by saying: “I don’t know what’s wrong with you”, she slaps him (twice?).
    “I slap him hard before I realize. I raise my hand, wait a fraction of a second, and then slap his cheeck hard. This is crazy, I think as I slap him. ”

    And once again, Stuart doesn’t respond on violence with violence, but instead takes her home.

    3. ” A place the doctor recommends”

    “The future is something she can’t imagine. She smiles, as if she has a secret, when she thinks about the future. Once, during a particularly bad argument, OVER WHAT SHE CAN’T REMEMBER NOW, five years or so after they were married, he tells her that someday this affair (his words: this affair) will end in violence. She remembers this. She files this somewhere and begins repeating it aloud from time to time. ”

    Now, I’m more and more thinking here about The Shutter Island.
    When I read this paragraph for the first time, it sounded like a threat, but reading it for the second time, I see that Carver is being very vague here, and doesn’t say whose violence would end this affair.
    The fact that she doesn’t remember what they were arguing about could mean that either they were arguing on a daily basis, or perhaps that it was simply one of the symptoms and manifestations of her psychosis – being overly obsessed with certain things, while remaing oblivious and detached from a large part of her own actions, behaviors and outbursts.
    “She smiles, as if she has a secret, when she thinks about the future.” A pretty chilling line.

    In the follow up, we learn that she used to have these headaches at 4 o’clock every afternoon, and that they would send her away to a place doctor recommends for a few weeks. That her mother in law comes to their place to take care of the child, and that “she, Claire, spoils everything and returns home in a few weeks.”

    The nature of the headches is clearly not physiological, but psychological; as they start every day at 4 o clock, possibly when Stuart comes home from work. And it is interesting how vague she remains about this place the doctor recommends. I’m thinking mental institution, of course.

    4. Stuart’s efforts

    Stuart’s efforts and patience remain unnoticed after reading it for the first time, but I think that is because we read a testimony of a very unreliable narrator, who is inclined to demonize her husbands actions:
    He remains calm after she breaks the dishes, he takes her out on a picnic, he doesn’t respond violently when she slaps him, he offers to take her out to dinner, he sends her flowers etc.

    “Stuart sits at the table with a drink in front of him. His eyes are red and for a minute I think he has been crying. He looks at me and doesn’t say anything”

    “What are you afraid of, Claire? Tell me, honey, and maybe I can help. I’d like to help, just try me. That’s what husbands are for.
    I can’t explain, I say, I’m just afraid, I feel like, I feel like, I feel like…”

    After this, he makes his move, hoping to finally sleep with her, but she once again refuses him, and this is the only time when he ACTUALLY becomes violent. I’m not sure if the actual rape occured though, but even if it did occur – his sobbing afterwards, and red eyes/tears just before the incidents, with those kind words he said to her, and all the efforts before and after – this all just doesn’t go with a distant, careless and cold personality she tries to pin on him.

    At the end, when he tells her over the phone that his mother would stay with them for a few days, I think it meant that ‘the place doctor recommends’ was once again waiting for her.
    And of course, once again she failes to retell a great deal of this conversation, just as she failed to remember what they were arguing about 5 years ago.

    “I’m in bed today when he calls.”
    ” I wait a minute, thinking about this, and then hang up while he is still talking.”
    “He says something else and I listen and nod slowly. I feel sleepy. “

  • In the story we do not know whether Stuart and his friends had anything to do with the girl’s death. We do not know if Stuart was active or passive in the decision to continue with the fishing trip instead of reporting the death.

    But since we are in the narrator’s head we do know that there is no love in Claire’s heart for Stuart inspite of sharing a family and a home with him. His mother senses this lack of love for her son and hence seems cold and judgmental to Claire.

    A life with no love is a life with no value. Our narrator realises that her life has no value and she wants to make a change. It suits Claire to imagine the worst of Stuart so she can push herself to leave him and salvage the rest of her life.

    Another unrelated thought, assuming Claire’s fears of Stuart/friends involvement in the crime is true. Then the story is symbolic of cross-generational traumas in the relationship between the genders at its worst. Men symbolic of violence/selfishness and women symbolic of acceptance/suffering.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for that insight Pooja. You look at the story from an interesting angle.

    • Hi Pooja, according to my understanding / reading of the story, you come close to hitting the nail on the head. The story speaks to me of an oppressed woman (it’s interesting others have seen her as insane – think ‘woman in the attic’ – let’s lock up those crazy women who refuse to accept their role in society that men have carved out for them!) realising that she is also, like the young girl who was raped and murdered, at the mercy of the violence of men. That’s why Claire identifies so strongly with her. Claire had felt it before under the surface but it had never been so clear to her. This is what changes her relationship with her husband and makes the story at once hopeful and devastating. I love the part where she decides to sleep separately from him and locks the door, which he ends up knocking through.

      She also refuses his intrusive sexual advances in a way that probably felt unnatural to her as she had been conditioned to accept them without a word. But no more. And the husband knows that and that is what makes him angrier by the end of the story. His anger and violence simmer under the tension, which we sense will now never go away, because Claire has made it clear she won’t put up with it any more. Until she can escape. A fate many, many women have had to suffer over a very long time.

  • It has been some years since I read this story, but one thing I do remember is that before it appeared in the form usually seen, it appeared in a slim volume of early work called “Furious Seasons,” and the version there was different, longer and with a rather darker ending. Noticing this thread reminds me that I should dig up both versions and read them again, but in the mean time I do want to mention that if this story (or for that matter Carver’s development as a story writer) really interests you, it might be worth trying to find the older version, though it is out of print and may be hard to find.

  • I come to this website after each stories and your interpretations are really interesting. I have one thing to add to the rear-view mirror thing. I think Stuart look through the mirror (at least in the narrator point of view) to observe Claire’s facial expression. Claire takes this as an evidence that Stuart realized her suspicion thus the following line ‘He Knows’.

    This scene highlights the fear within Claire as she would be in great danger for knowing the secret of a murderer. Mirror could be a symbol of barrier between them, who seems like stranger to each other and not knowing each other anymore.

    Rear mirror as a symbol of looking back to the past is a brilliant idea, but I have to disagree in this particular story. As you say, Stuart is unaffectionate and insensitive. I don’t think he cares anyway.

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