The Woman Who Walked on Water

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The Woman Who Walked on Water is a beautifully crafted, dark fable, the story of a woman's search for meaning. Adele leaves her comfortable life in Connecticut for India, to follow a guru she has met in Chartres Cathedral. Her departure confounds her family and neighbors: Adele is beautiful; she is lucky; she possesses charisma; she is a champion swimmer whose stamina and grace astound the patrons of the exclusive resort in the Caribbean that her family visits each year. Adele's husband cannot understand what the...
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The Woman Who Walked on Water is a beautifully crafted, dark fable, the story of a woman's search for meaning. Adele leaves her comfortable life in Connecticut for India, to follow a guru she has met in Chartres Cathedral. Her departure confounds her family and neighbors: Adele is beautiful; she is lucky; she possesses charisma; she is a champion swimmer whose stamina and grace astound the patrons of the exclusive resort in the Caribbean that her family visits each year. Adele's husband cannot understand what the Indian guru - an elusive, ever-changing man who indeed seems privy to some of life's mysteries - can give Adele that he cannot. Her two children worry as she grows gaunt and begins to look older than her years, and as her letters arrive less and less frequently. As we watch Adele's deepening spirituality, The Woman Who Walked on Water compellingly gives life to the writings of Rumi, Laotzu, and the Upanishads, which infuse this work with their wisdom. Yet what also emerges is a troubling portrait of a woman alone in a foreign country, surrounded by a family and culture not her own, in a dry and dusty city. Lily Tuck portrays with acumen, pathos, and humor a woman who may have found enlightenment. She also leaves us questioning Adele's fate, and our own desires for transcendence.

A beautifully crafted, dark fable, this hauting tale of a woman's search for spiritual fulfillment compellingly gives life to the writings of Rumi, Lao-tzu, the Upanishads, and the many ancient proverbs that infuse this work with their wisdom. "An impeccably told story of the mystical and miraculous in the everyday."--Amy Hempel

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Editorial Reviews

Kate Moses

In her sly first novel, Interviewing Matisse or The Woman Who Died Standing Up, author Lily Tuck's two (middle-aged, privileged, female) protagonists spend a rainy night on the phone desperately offering, and evading, chance after chance to connect with each other in a meaningful way. In her new book, Tuck's protagonist wants nothing but to connect; her search for meaning is the heart of this arresting, lyrical, strangely satisfying book.

The center of attention in The Woman Who Walked on Water is Adele, again a middle-aged, unquestionably privileged woman, a wife and mother who's been given "everything" by her successful husband: a house in Connecticut, a horse, big dogs, annual vacations in the Caribbean, the opportunity to do not much more than volunteer at museums and explore alternative therapies. She's also charismatic, lucky and beautiful, a champion swimmer who once ran the New York Marathon, a woman whose station in life has permitted her a certain whimsical nonchalance. Why, her dumbfounded family and friends ask, would someone like Adele give up everything to chase after an Indian guru she met in Chartres Cathedral?

But give up everything she does, thereby encountering cultural and spiritual frustration, confusion, heat, dust, unswimmable water, material sacrifice and loneliness. "Lily! What in the world ever happened to Adele?" asks Adele's friend, the new owner of one of ele's beloved Irish Setters, after Adele disappears. And Lily (the dog) may have as good an idea as anyone's of what has become of Adele. There is no neat ending here: Adele's family, baffled, moves on, her friends pass each other in the street with stray questions, the Caribbean resort enjoys its seasons of rain and sun and blooming vines, all without resolution or assessment.

Did Adele ever find enlightenment? Does it matter? "When you pray for God's grace," ays Ramana Maharishi in the epigraph to Chapter 1, "you are like someone standing neck-deep in water and yet crying for water." Adele's prayer, unexpected but sincere, may have been the point all along. Layering subtle allegory and ancient wisdom with sharp-edged characterization, this enigmatic book portrays a thoroughly believable and memorable quest for a life that transcends even its charmed beginnings. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Again Tuck (Interviewing Matisse: or The Woman Who Died Standing Up) has taken stylistic risks and emerged triumphant. Her stark prose and allegory-inside-allegory narrative tug the reader, like an ancient Eastern conundrum, toward a "realization which is beyond understanding.'' Adele is a Connecticut woman of style, spoiled and lucky, solipsistic in her youth, superstitious now. When she visits Chartres with her husband Howard and two children on the day of the airing of the sacra camisa, she meets an Indian guru, whom she thereafter refers to as "Him,'' in the cathedral. That very day, Adele follows Him to Bombay, where she must learn to do nothing, forget everything. Her chameleon-like mentor gives her a room in His family-filled house but makes no promises, and as Adele lists sins and sheds habits and treasured objects, she moves toward an ascetic purity. He tells her she can't go back to her old life. Yet Adele does go back-to the beach resort her family has always frequented. An accomplished swimmer whose physicality often is part of her spirituality, Adele takes daring marathon swims far out in the Caribbean. The narrator, who has watched from the safety of the shore, is there on the day she doesn't return. Her husband is a material man who now grapples with his loss through incomprehensible dreams; the narrator, once an unheard listener, becomes the voice of enlightenment. This deftly and deceptively simple book is wondrously deep. (Mar.)
Donna Seaman
Tuck, author of Interviewing Matisse: or, The Woman Who Died Standing Up (1991), leaves much to the imagination in this spare novel about a woman's quest for enlightenment. Indeed, this compelling and enigmatic tale is not unlike a Zen koan, a paradox fashioned to inspire sustained, even circular meditation. We only know Tuck's heroine, Adele, through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, a woman who meets Adele at a Caribbean resort. The narrator, a former dancer, watches Adele and her three Irish setters swim alarmingly far out into the deep turquoise sea, so far out that they all but disappear. After they make their triumphant return, the women and the dogs sit and rest on the bright beach, and Adele tells her new friend about her sojourns in India, where she studied with an uncompromising guru. So taken was Adele with this stern man's teachings, she left her wealthy Connecticut husband and their two children to live the strictly controlled and comfortless life of a disciple. What wisdom did she acquire? What pain and loneliness did she suffer? Tuck lets us draw our own conclusions.
Kirkus Reviews
Mesmerizing in its simplicity, this second novel from Tuck (Interviewing Matisse, or, the Woman Who Died Standing Up, 1991) lyrically traces one woman's search for spiritual enlightenment and self-fulfillment—or at least for a life away from suburban Connecticut.

Reminiscent of Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, the story is broken into 76 slim, self-contained, dreamlike chapters. Each of these, randomly strung together, builds an engrossing portrait of Adele—a shining star of a woman, so charming and admirable that she draws everyone into her orbit. Her defining feature (and Tuck's recurring theme, repeated in a series of mystic tales on the requirements needed to walk on water) is her courage in the ocean: Bystanders gawk as Adele and her three Irish setters swim out so far they're transformed into dots on the horizon. The narrator is an unnamed friend, an annual companion at the exclusive Caribbean resort Adele and her family frequent, an unabashed admirer of Adele's near-mythic personalty. She pieces together the story of their friendship, of Adele's past, and, most importantly, of Adele's scandalous decision to leave her relatively happy life with husband and two children to follow an Indian guru she meets while vacationing in France. In an attempt to get her home from India, Adele's husband, Howard, promises her a solitary trip to the Caribbean to think things over, sending her dogs down for swimming companionship. It's there that Adele tells about her strange adventures of self-abnegation with the guru, her thinning body and graying hair, and, stranger still, her inability to leave His presence. As each passage shifts into the next, explanations are expected for Adele's abandonment of home and hearth. Instead of answers, though, there come parables of enlightenment that, finally, make a far stronger case for Adele's submission to the guru than any stubbornness or weakness of will.

An exquisite, gem-like treatise on the nature of illumination—a case study of metamorphosis.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573220217
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/23/1996
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Lily Tuck

Lily Tuck was born in Paris and lived in Thailand in the early '60s. She is the author of two previous novels: Interviewing Matisse, Or the Woman Died Standing Up and The Woman Who Walked on Water. She has written numerous short stories, the most recent of which have been published in The New Yorker, Fiction, and The Antioch Review.


Born in Paris, Lily Tuck is the author of three previous novels: Interviewing Matisse or the Woman Who Died Standing Up, The Woman Who Walked on Water, and Siam, or the Woman Who Shot a Man, which was nominated for the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, and are collected in Limbo, or Other Places I Have Lived. She divides her time between Maine and New York City.

Author biography courtesy of HarperCollins.

Good To Know

Some outtakes from our interview with Tuck:

"English is actually my third language. I was born in France and thus first spoke French, next I lived in South America and learned Spanish. I came to the United States when I was ten years old and I claim (probably not quite true) that I did not open my mouth once in school for the whole of the first year -- or until I could speak English without an accent -- as I did not want my classmates to tease or make fun of me."

"I spend most summers in a house on a beautiful little island in Maine where I have to go everywhere by boat, to the store or to the post office, and although some days can be very solitary, I like the challenge and the self-sufficiency island life requires."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 10, 1939
    2. Place of Birth:
      Paris, France
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe (Harvard); M.A., Sorbonne, Paris

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2000

    Searching the self

    This was a shocking book for me, just because I found my mother right in this wonderful book's pages from the beginning to the end. Shocking because the writer was so excellent depicting the soul's journey from common life to the extraordinaire, to reaching the point of becoming selfless... I saw so many similar traces between my mother's life and Adele, maybe the book helped me to understand my mother a little bit better.. I will send this book to her overseas at her request, and she does not even know English. I recommend this book to everyone either soul searching or just trying to understand those who do.. A great read...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Selflessness: The ideal of virtue..

    This is a reference book for our world which is is obsessed with an idea of success and mostly judges success on ordinary status symbols.The reader can notice one point clearly in the story of Adele's searching for meaning and trying to find the answers to life's toughest questions ; reaching for the point of becoming selfless is probably the most important single factor of life. Soul's journey from common life to the extraordinaire is a unique break to find the accurate enlightenment that brings the spiritul serenity.I recommend this book to everyone who is searching the real meaning of life . And I am sure that this book may coach you for searching the self..

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