‘All the Water I’ve Seen is Running’ by Elias Rodriques: The Unlikeliness of Life

Ray Levy Uyeda

Elias Rodriques’s All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running (255 pages; Norton) tells the story of Daniel Henriquez, a high school English teacher working in New York who returns home to Florida after he receives news that a friend from his teen years has passed away. The book’s plot takes place in the present, mostly over the course of a few days on the Palm Coast, though Daniel’s interiority takes the reader back in time with him as he retraces memories of his friend Aubrey.

Daniel, the mixed-race son of Jamaican immigrants, and Aubrey, a white Southerner whose family proudly displayed Confederate flags, were an unlikely pairing. And while at first it seems that Daniel returns to avenge Aubrey’s death—as she had escaped the Palm Coast, fallen in love, and was about to be married when she found herself in a car with a man who was too drunk to drive—it later becomes clear that what Daniel’s really after can’t be explained. As the book progresses, Daniel’s love for Aubrey unfolds. It’s the kind of love that can only exist in spaces like middle and high school, that time when you’re still learning to love and yearning to feel seen, when your peers are as vulnerable as they are unforgiving and as forgiving as they are impulsive.

Rodriques, who has written non-fiction and literary criticism for the Nation, n+1, and The Guardian, ventured into novel writing to work through his own grief. Though All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running tells a fictional story, its impetus and grounding in Florida are very much real; the only way to work through the grief of his friend’s passing was to write about the loss as if it was someone else’s. “I wrote fiction in a way because I couldn’t write non-fiction,” Rodriques said in an interview. “I had to write it at a slant.”

Though written at a slant, the book’s narration has a kind of poetic realism to it:

Ever since I left—in college, in New York—I been fronting like I ain’t speak with a accent before I got there…Like my mom’s car ain’t sit in the driveway for weeks after hurricanes, I say. Been fronting so long, I done forgot everything. Then Aubrey died and I started thinking about home. Started talking to my mom and she told me all these stories about our family…And just like that, one generation later, we gone from rivers to fridges, dirt paths to roads, and I’m up there in the biggest city on Earth, running around and I ain’t know if I’m country or I’m city. Had me wondering why I was up there, if I learned anything.

“The sea’s salty scent gives way to overgrown grass,” Daniel observes once he’s returned to Florida. “On my right lies the paved trail through marsh where alligators occasionally sunbathe…After a few miles, I exit onto Palm Coast Parkway, near equidistant from where they killed Trayvon and from where they locked up Marissa.” Without explication, Rodriques illustrates the knowledge of place: That a place cannot be devoid of its culture. A culture cannot exist without its history, and that a place contains a trace of everything that has ever happened upon it.

Perhaps one of the greatest triumphs of the novel is that for all of the ways the story is shaped by the boundaries of class, race, space, and time, Rodriques shows a love that defies these—a love that in many ways feels boundless. We learn that Daniel was in love with Aubrey in high school and that he’s in love with her still. Their relationship was not sexual, though it was romantic. Theirs was an intimate love, a queer kind of love, one where the quality of relationship wasn’t defined by an adherence to a label like sexual or not sexual, straight or gay, rather by the unspeakable emotions that pass between two people. The kind of relationship that can only be known by the people in it; everything externalized is just an approximation. In a parallel sense, the book itself is an approximation; an attempt to get as close as possible to the truth of what it means to lose someone who has already been lost to you, and in turn, what it means to find them again in remembering.

Before the book’s story even begins, the author offers us a quote from Ishion Hutchinson’s The Mariner’s Progress: “Geography is not fate but fatal.” For Aubrey, surely, this is true. But for Daniel, who’s called home and back to his friends by way of Aubrey’s death, geography is both fate and fatal. The final chapter is narrated by Daniel’s friend, Egypt, who speaks of the unlikeliness of life and the likelihood of fate: “It’s unlikely, so unlikely, that we found ourselves here in the Earth’s history between the emergence from the ocean of this land we call home and its eventual reclamation by the water when the tides rise, this short time in our long lives after we befriended each other and then gave ourselves to work’s routines and still somehow returned to each other.”

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