Life Without Water

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Overview

By turns wry and heart-rending, this first novel by up-and-coming North Carolina writer Nancy Peacock takes the form of an unvarnished reminiscence of growing up during the cultural craziness of the late '60s and early '70s. Life Without Water parts the heavy curtain drawn closed by the Reagan era and takes us back to the summer of love, to a country convulsed by Vietnam, to a generation in search of itself. With the clear-eyed honesty only the very young are capable of, Cedar recounts the story of her childhood ...
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Overview

By turns wry and heart-rending, this first novel by up-and-coming North Carolina writer Nancy Peacock takes the form of an unvarnished reminiscence of growing up during the cultural craziness of the late '60s and early '70s. Life Without Water parts the heavy curtain drawn closed by the Reagan era and takes us back to the summer of love, to a country convulsed by Vietnam, to a generation in search of itself. With the clear-eyed honesty only the very young are capable of, Cedar recounts the story of her childhood in a ramshackle farmhouse in the country outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a household shared - in the fashion of the times - by two adult couples and their three children. In particular, it is the story of Cedar and her mother, Sara, and young Cedar's unflagging - and largely unsuccessful - efforts to help Sara repair the emotional damage done by the death of her beloved brother in Vietnam.
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Editorial Reviews

Francine Prose
[A] deft, sly, unassuming first novel. -- New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The different role that memory plays in the lives of a mother and daughter forms the theme of this tender, evocative debut novel. "You know, if Jimmie hadn't died, you might not have ever been born," Sara Russel tells her young daughter, Cedar. Cedar has heard this statement so many times that it has become legend to her. There are stories that always accompany mention of her Uncle Jimmie, who was killed in Vietnam: about the letter her mother received from Jimmie three weeks after his death and how she could never bring herself to open it; about how Sara met Cedar's father soon after Jimmie's death and probably wouldn't have found him so fascinating if Jimmie wasn't dead. The recitation of all these circumstances that led up to her birth has become part of the texture of Cedar's life, indelibly linked with her own memories of growing up in the 1970s in Chatham County, N.C., in a ramshackle three-story farmhouse without running water. In plainspoken, disarmingly pure tones, Cedar tells the story of a quirky, often troubled, yet oddly idyllic childhood. To her young, pretty mother, however, retelling memories is an ongoing attempt to make sense of her life. As she is revealed through the stories and anecdotes she has passed down to her daughter, Sara comes across as a strong-willed, passionate woman plagued by doubts and regrets. The result is a rich narrative. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Peacock's first novel is an engaging tale of growing up in the hippie culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The narrator, Cedar, named for the trees in the rural North Carolina commune where she was born, runs through her very vivid memories of early childhood. From water jugs and outhouses to the seemingly nonstop pot smoking and easy sexuality of those passing through her young life, Peacock creates an exotic place and peoples it with characters who seem just as rare, as do Carson McCullers and Shirley Ann Grau. Cedar cannot always tell whether she really remembers the things that happened or just heard them so many times from "Momma" that she "remembers" that way. From the drift of memory come themes that evoke the major image in the book's title: rootlessness, insubstantial relationships, sameness, and tenacity. Recommended for general fiction collections and those focusing on Southern literature.Roger W. Durbin, Univ. of Akron, Ohio
Kirkus Reviews
First-novelist Peacock offers a canny child's-eye view of a euphoric but ultimately fragile experiment in communal living.

The narrator, Cedar, was born in 1969 in North Carolina. Her mother Sara, devastated at the time by the recent death of her brother Jimmie in Vietnam, had succumbed to the seductions of bandana-wearing Sol and had moved with him into an abandoned house without plumbing, where the two lived off the proceeds of Sol's dope dealing. Sol draws on the walls and paints the floor like a rainbow, and when Cedar is born, he has 60 friends over to celebrate. When Cedar is four, Sara puts her mattress in the van and she and Cedar leave—the house is cold and Sol passes out too often. Heading into Taos, the van breaks down, and handsome Daniel gives Sara and Cedar a lift. He has a girlfriend but falls for Sara anyway, and soon the trio is headed back to North Carolina, to the house that they're sure Sol couldn't have kept up on his own. Acquaintances Woody and Elaine and their two kids move in, too. Elaine bakes, Woody makes pots, and the children become best friends, and Sara is pregnant with Daniel's baby. Then Woody invites griping, unpleasant Topaz to stay, and suddenly Daniel is reading poetry to her, and then he's moved into her bedroom. Sara takes to her own bed, where she's nursed by Cedar; Daniel skulks in Topaz's room, sneaking down at night to steal food. And then Topaz is pregnant. She departs, and Daniel wants back into the family, but the house burns down and everyone's idyll is over. College-age Cedar's recollections are both wise and forgiving and add up to a complex blend of undiluted nostalgia for those anarchic days with the warmth of her extended family, and a clear-eyed view of the complexities within that edenic world.

In an accomplished debut, a dead-on rendition of the idealism and the emotional flux of an untraditional household.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553379297
  • Publisher: Bantam Books
  • Publication date: 3/2/1998
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.01 (w) x 7.04 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Reading Group Guide

About the Book:The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Nancy Peacock's novel Life Without Water. We hope they will enrich your understanding of her wonderful novel remarkable for its insight into history and human nature.Discussion Questions:

Question: Why does Sara never read Jimmie's last letter? What does keeping it sealed mean to her?

Question: Cedar obeys her mom, and doesn't tell Sol when they're getting ready to leave. Why? What makes her relationship with her mom closer than that with her dad?

Question: Sara decides to start a new life after Two Moons burns down, away from Elaine and Woody. Why do you think she does this?

Question: What attracted Sara to Sol and Daniel? What attracts her to Jack, who is so different from the other two? What do you think contributed to the instability of Sara's relationships with Sol and Daniel?

Question: A lot of kids get jealous when a new child arrives on the scene, but Cedar never feels that way about Roo. Why?

Question: Sara implies that the fathers of her two children were choices influenced by her brother's death. What do you think led her to chose these men, so different from her brother the soldier?

Question: How realistically do you feel the commune life is portrayed in this book? What makes it (in)accurate?

Question: How does the time period portrayed in this book compare with your memories of that era — or with the stories you've heard about that time?

Question: Why did John Lennon's death make Sara and Cedar want to remember Two Moons? Why didn't they include Roo?

Question: Why doesn't Sara tell her own story? Why is Cedar so fiercely protective of her mother?

Question: One of the remarkable things about Sara and Cedar's commune lifestyle is the freedom it affords. What does Life Without Water say about this kind of freedom? In your opinion, is the price worth its benefits?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2008

    Life Without Water

    This is am Amazing book. Once I picked it up, it was hard to put it down.<BR/>I feel for Cedar and the way she lives this is book. The hard times she went through, and caring for her mother. It is a truly moving book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2001

    By far the greatest book about the 70s!

    This book was outstanding! I wouldn't put the book down for anything. Nancey Peacock paints a passionate picture of one girl's life. I'm purchasing this book so I can give to my friends and family to read. I highly recommend it for a one rainy day read!

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