The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

All the Water I've Seen Is Running
A Novel
by Elias Rodriques
22 Jun 2021
272 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: Novels
Critics:
Readers:
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Former high school classmates reckon with the death of a friend in this stunning debut novel.

Along the Intracoastal waterways of North Florida, Daniel and Aubrey navigated adolescence with the electric intensity that radiates from young people defined by otherness: Aubrey, a self-identified "Southern cracker" and Daniel, the mixed-race son of Jamaican immigrants. When the news of Aubrey's death reaches Daniel in New York, years after they'd lost contact, he is left to grapple with the legacy of his precious and imperfect love for her. At ease now in his own queerness, he is nonetheless drawn back to the muggy haze of his Palm Coast upbringing, tinged by racism and poverty, to find out what happened to Aubrey. Along the way, he reconsiders his and his family's history, both in Jamaica and in this place he once called home.

Buoyed by his teenage track-team buddies―Twig, a long-distance runner; Desmond, a sprinter; Egypt, Des's girlfriend; and Jess, a chef―Daniel begins a frantic search for meaning in Aubrey's death, recklessly confronting the drunken country boy he believes may have killed her. Sensitive to the complexities of class, race, and sexuality both in the American South and in Jamaica, All the Water I've Seen Is Running is a novel of uncommon tenderness, grief, and joy. All the while, it evokes the beauty and threat of the place Daniel calls home―where the river meets the ocean.

"[A] fresh and rhapsodic debut...This melancholy story is a startling and necessary addition to the canon or works that parse what it means to grow up in the American South." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Rodriques brings a lyrical touch to his hero's inner life, making his past pains and present-day heartbreaks feel bone-deep. A well-turned exploration of how intensely place and history shape our identities." - Kirkus Reviews

"This novel; this portrayal of American youth―tender, and tough, and searching; this voice, which absorbs and transforms tragedy into elegy; this is one I've been waiting for. All the Water I've Seen Is Running is a mesmerizing look at friendship and loss, and Elias Rodriques is a devastating wonder." - Justin Torres, author of We the Animals

"All the Water I've Seen Is Running is an absorbing meditation on the power of memory and the people and places that make us who we are. Daniel's captivating excavation of his past made me reflect on the different pieces of ourselves we have to bury for survival." - Maisy Card, author of These Ghosts Are Family

"In this story of a Florida homegoing, Elias Rodriques builds a raw and poignant poetry out of colloquial speech. Race, friendship, sex, the violent bluster and hopeful tenderness of youth, running and swimming and gigging for flounder, guilt and grief, the past that slips through your fingers and the past that rides heavy on your shoulders―many deep tributaries merge here, in a river that meets the sea." - Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Susan P. (Mount Vernon, WA)
A haunting tale of Place, Time and Life
"All the Water I've Seen is Running" demonstrates the power of Place in our memories and our lives. Daniel has grown up in an environment and ecology where geography and people live with day to day violence, danger, friendships, and love that etches them for life. Daniel comes to grips with his personal story through the loss of a dear friend to a violent death and the love and support of old friends who have grown up and apart over time. It is also a story of continuation as told through family stories filled with complexities and nuances that has shaped each generation where each of Daniel's ancestors is shaped by a river or "water that is always running". I am both captivated and haunted by Daniel's story.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Robin B. (Olmsted Falls, OH)
All the water I have seen
I enjoyed the book. Characters were developed. Great depth.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Rose N. (Saginaw, MI)
Returning home
In the ten years since Daniel left the poverty and racism of his north Florida home, he has completed his college degree and is employed as a high school English teacher in NYC. He has not maintained any connection with his former high school friends. However, he is drawn back home when he learns that Aubrey, a special friend, has been killed in a traffic accident.

Upon his return to Florida Daniel immediately lapses into the jargon and the activities of his former comrades. He begins to realize that what he thought he left forever behind is, and always will be, a large part of his true self.

As Daniel reunites with his friends, and shares certain secrets with them, we also learn of his biracial ancestry and how this has affected his life as well.

I enjoyed this novel and was constantly reminded of the fact that, no matter where our life takes us, we are largely composed of our heritage and of our early environs.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Linda J. (Urbana, OH)
Treading Water
This is a complicated story of a young man who finds out his best friend from high school has been killed in a car accident. He had a "different" relationship with her so during a trip back home to Florida continually examines their relationship and his relationship with the other friends he calls upon to resolve issues that have bothered him/them for years. There are a lot of heavy issues in this book that caused me to examine my own life.
The author does not use quotation marks which became a problem at times and, for me, slowed down my reading of the text. The timeline flipped from now in NYC, high school days in Florida, and his mother's childhood. Some of the transitions were less than seamless.
Overall it was an enjoyable read.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Antoinette B. (Hilton Head Island, SC)
A very good book that may not be for everyone.
Daniel returns home to Palm Coast ,Florida after 7 years to search for the meaning of life or death upon hearing of a high school friend/love's death. The story hinges on how our memories shape us for good or bad and how the friendships of our youth may still define us years later. After time, are our memories factual or our they reconstructions of those times that we have told ourselves so many times that they have become the memories? Whether they actually occurred as we remembered or not, the memories help to define our outlook and may even hold us back from moving forward. Daniel had to 'remember' in order to let go.

The tale covers much of his youth and reminiscences of his high school years, his friends and his first love. Some of them were tender, some were grief-stricken, some were confused , as those years can be. All of them evoke this place he called home that taught him love but also taught him about poverty, homophobia sexuality and racism. One cannot always go back and apologize for things that they had done, but true friends are not waiting for that apology anyway. Ultimately, he had to learn this.

The book may be difficult for some to read because of the use of the local dialect and certain word choices. I do feel that if you let yourself flow in to the dialect, it does get easier and gives a more complete understanding of who these young people are. It also touches on racism, homophobia and class distinctions which may upset some people; but, this was or is a real part of being black in the American rural south. I believe that it makes you think and leads to thoughtful discussions that are necessary today. My only difficulty in reading it at the start was that I sometimes lost the thread of who was speaking and had to stop and re-read a passage due to the author's style and lack of quotes or he/she said. I did get used to his writing style after a while.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others but as I stated at the beginning , it may not be for everyone.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Sally D. (Jacksonville, FL)
Good and Bad
There is no doubt that this author is a very capable writer. Many of his passages are quite lyrical. However when he changes route and goes into the patois of the main character and his buddies it becomes most difficult to understand. It is as if, one is riding along on a smooth running, clear as glass sea and quite suddenly hits a patch of unbelievable choppy, dangerous water. It stops the reader in his/her tracks to sort out what is actually being said. I have to admit I really tried to stick to this story but just could no longer ride the waves.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Pamela W. (Piney Flats, TN)
Mixed Feelings
Both the main character, Daniel, and I - and perhaps the author - have mixed feelings.
Throughout most of the book, I kept wanting more from the author. Show me more than a narration of place. Show me the depth of your pain from your relationships with your father and Aubrey.
As I approached the end of the novel, I reconsidered the author's style. Maybe he couldn't reveal more because Daniel was still exploring. Maybe?
I did love the metaphor of the title. I also really liked the last chapter. Egypt asked better questions than the guys did. Where's her book?

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Carol N. (San Jose, CA)
Sorry, but ...
First let me thank Book Browse for sending me a copy of this book. It was an interesting premise, a gay man remembering the girl he attached himself to in high school, returns to the town he escaped from to learn about her early death. I m sorry to say much to my chagrin, I only made it through the first 150 pages filled with reminiscences out of chronological order, Daniel's childhood, and his mother's life. I found it hard to keep track of and frankly difficult to read. I simply stopped out of my frustration. While trying to get used to his writing style, I often lost the thread of who was speaking and had to reread a passage or two. The use of local dialect and certain word choices did not make it any easier to understand these young people.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Amy E. (Delaware, OH)
Is it really geography?
ALL THE WATER I'VE SEEN IS RUNNING was a challenging read for me, however I received insight into another lifestyle.
Daniel was compelled to go home to process the death of a high school friend, but he carried a lot of baggage with him. Although he had followed his dream and escaped Palm Coast he was still an immigrant Jamaican of East Indian descent whose home life had not been stable. Since leaving he had accepted that he was gay and he carried guilt for not keeping in touch with his friends. Add to this racism, guns and a hefty dose of alcohol and the author provides insight into another level of society.
Not sure I would have chosen to read this book, but I feel every book has something to teach me and this book did not disappoint.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Susie J. (Fort Wayne, IN)
All the Water - Still Running
I asked to review this book after being drawn to it by its title, yet having now completed it, I am sorry to say it has left me wanting. The premise of the book is clear - its plot definitely worthy - and the author frequently demonstrates some skill with language. However, the pacing of the novel, the development of its characters, and, at times, the confusing movement back and forth, between past and present, left me wondering who exactly is the intended audience of this piece. While I wanted to know and understand Daniel, and to some degree I was able, that degree was simply not deep enough nor consistently maintained throughout my reading to compel me to want to care. I put the book down after reading a third of the way through, and I picked it up sporadically until I completed it. Sometimes language was a barrier, sometimes sentence variety - from short to long, from rich and poetic to bland and vague. But even more than that, at its outset, the reason for the whole novel, Daniel's understanding of his youth, and he and Aubrey's adolescent relationship in a small north Florida town, lacked structure or detail or drama enough to make me really want to connect to him from its very beginning.

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Elias Rodriques's work has been published in the Nation, Bookforum, n+1, and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is an assistant professor of African American literature at Sarah Lawrence College.

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