The Water-Method Man

The Water-Method Man

by John Irving
The Water-Method Man

The Water-Method Man

by John Irving


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“John Irving, it is abundantly clear, is a true artist.”—Los Angeles Times

Fred "Bogus" Trumper has troubles. A divorced, broke graduate student of Old Norse in 1970s New York, Trumper is a wayward knight-errant in the battle of the sexes and the pursuit of happiness: His ex-wife has moved in with his childhood best friend, his life is the subject of a tell-all movie, and his chronic urinary tract infection requires surgery. 

Trumper is determined to change. There's only one problem: it seems the harder he tries to alter his adolescent ways, the more he is drawn to repeating the mistakes of the past. . . .

Written when Irving was twenty-nine, Trumper's tale of woe is told with all the wit and humor that would become Irving's trademark.

“Three or four times as funny as most novels.”The New Yorker

Praise for The Water-Method Man

“Friendship, marriage, and family are his primary themes, but at that blundering level of life where mishap and folly—something close to joyful malice—perpetually intrude and distrupt, often fatally. Life, in [John] Irving's fiction, is always under siege. Harm and disarray are daily fare, as if the course of love could not run true. . . . Irving's multiple manner . . . his will to come at the world from different directions, is one of the outstandint traits of The World According to Garp, but this remarkable flair for . . . stories inside stories . . . isalready handled with mastery . . . and with a freedom almost wanton in The Water-Method Man [which is Garp's predecessor by six years].”—Terrence Des Pres

“Brutal reality and hallucination, comedy and pathos. A rich, unified tapestry.”Time

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345418005
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/23/1997
Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 154,972
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

About The Author
John Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules—a film with seven Academy Award nominations.



Date of Birth:

March 2, 1942

Place of Birth:

Exeter, New Hampshire


B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

Read an Excerpt


Yogurt & Lots of Water

Her gynecologist recommended him to me. Ironic: the best urologist in New York is French. Dr. Jean Claude Vigneron: ONLY BY APPOINTMENT. So I made one.

“You like New York better than Paris?” I asked.

“In Paris, I dared to keep a car.”

“My father is a urologist, too.”

“Then he must be a second-rate one,” Vigneron said, “if he didn’t know what was wrong with you.”

“It’s nonspecific,” I said. I knew the history of my ailment well. “Sometimes it’s nonspecific urethritis, once it was nonspecific prostatitis. Another time, I had the clap—but that’s a different story. Once it was just a common germ. But always, nonspecific.”

“It looks very specific to me,” Vigneron said.

“No,” I said. “Sometimes it responds to penicillin, sometimes sulfa does the trick. Once, Furadantin cured it.”

“There, you see?” he said. “Urethritis and prostatitis don’t respond to Furadantin.”

“Well, there,” I said, “you see? It was something else that time. Nonspecific.”

“Specific,” Vigneron said. “You can’t get much more specific than the urinary tract.”

He showed me. On his examination table I tried to be calm. He handed me a perfect plastic breast, as lovely a one as I’ve seen: realistic color and texture, and a fine, upstanding nipple.

“My God…”

“Just bite on it,” he said. “Forget about me.”

I clutched the rare boob, looking it straight in the eye. I’m sure that my father employs no such up-to-date devices. When you’re erect, the nasty glass rod goes in a bit easier. I recall I pulled a muscle, trying not to cry.

Very specific,” said Jean Claude Vigneron, who responded in sly French when I told him it was at least unusual to hold a breast whose nipple one could bite without reserve.

Vigneron’s diagnosis of my ailment is best understood with some historical perspective. Odd and painful peeing is not new to me.

Seven times in the last five years, I have suffered this unnamable disorder. Once it was the clap, but that’s another story. Usually, the apparatus is simply stuck together in the morning. A careful pinch sets things right, or almost right. Urinating is often a challenge, the sensations always new and surprising. Also, it’s time-consuming—your day spent in anticipation of the next time you’ll have to pee. Sex, typically, is unmentionable. Orgasm is truly climactic. Coming is a slow experience—the long, astonishing journey of a rough and oversized ball bearing. In the past I had given up the act altogether. Which drives me to drink, which makes the pee burn: an unfriendly circle.

And always the nonspecific diagnosis. Terrifying new strains of possibly Asian venereal diseases are never substantiated. “Some kind of infection” is carefully not named. Different drugs are tried; one eventually works. The Medical Encyclopedia of the Home reveals vague and ominous symptoms of cancer of the prostate. But the doctors always tell me I’m too young. I always agree.

And now, Jean Claude Vigneron puts his glass rod on the problem. Specifically a birth defect. Not surprising—I have already suspected the existence of several.

“Your urinary tract is a narrow, winding road.”

I took the news pretty well.

“Americans are so silly about sex,” Vigneron said. From my own experience, I felt unfit to argue. “You think everything is washable, but the vagina remains the dirtiest thing in the world. Did you know that? Every unexposed orifice harbors hundreds of harmless bacteria, but the vagina is a superior hostess. I say ‘harmless’—but not to you. Normal penises flush them out.”

“But not my narrow, winding road?” I said, thinking of its odd crannies, where hundreds of bacteria could lead a secret life.

“You see?” said Vigneron. “Isn’t that specific?”

“What’s the recommended treatment?” I still held the plastic breast. A man with an invulnerable nipple can be brave. 

“You have four alternatives,” Vigneron said. “There are lots of drugs, and one will always work. Seven times in five years is not surprising, considering such a urinary tract as yours. And the pain isn’t severe, is it? You can live with this periodic inconvenience to your peeing and your screwing, can’t you?”

“I have a new life now,” I said. “I want to change.”

“Then stop screwing,” Vigneron said. “Consider masturbation. You can wash your hand.”

“I don’t want to change that much.”

“Remarkable!” Vigneron cried. He is a handsome man, big and cocksure; I gripped the plastic breast tightly. “Remarkable, remarkable…you are my tenth American patient to face these alternatives, and every one of you rejects the first two.”

“So what’s remarkable about that?” I said. “They’re not very attractive alternatives.”

“For Americans!” cried Vigneron. “Three of my patients in my Paris days chose to live with it. And one—and he wasn’t an old man, either—gave up screwing.”

“I haven’t heard the other two alternatives,” I said.

“I always pause here,” said Dr. Vigneron. “I like to guess which one you’ll choose. With Americans I’ve never guessed wrong. You are a predictable people. You always want to change your lives. You never accept what you’re born with. And for you? For you, I can sense it. It’s the water method for you!”

I found the doctor’s tone offensive. With breast in hand, I was determined that the water method would not be for me.

“It is a fallible method, of course,” Vigneron said. “A compromise, at best. Instead of seven times in five years, maybe one time in three years—healthier odds, that’s all.”

“I don’t like it.”

“But you haven’t tried it,” he said. “It’s very simple. You drink lots of water before you screw. You drink lots of water after you screw. And you go easy on the booze. Alcohol makes bacteria happy. In the French Army, we had an ingenious test-cure for the clap. Give them the normal dose of penicillin. Then give them three beers before bedtime when they tell you they think they’re cured. If they have a discharge in the morning, more penicillin. You just need lots of water. With your curious tract, you need all the flushing you can get. After intercourse, just remember to get up and pee.”

The breast in my hand was only plastic. I said, “You expect me to perform the sexual act on a full bladder? That’s painful.”

“It’s different,” Vigneron agreed. “But you’ll have bigger erections. Did you know that?”

I asked him what the fourth alternative was, and he smiled.

“A simple operation,” he said. “Minor surgery.”

I sliced my thumbnail into the plastic nipple.

“We simply straighten you out,” said Vigneron. “We widen the road. It doesn’t take a minute. We put you to sleep, of course.”

In my hand was an absurd synthetic mammary gland, an obvious fake. I put it down. “It must hurt a little,” I said. “I mean, after the operation.”

“For forty-eight hours or so.” Vigneron shrugged; all pain appeared equally tolerable to him.

“Can you put me to sleep for forty-eight hours?” I asked.

“Ten out of ten!” Vigneron cried. “They always ask that!”

“Forty-eight hours?” I wondered. “How do I pee?”

“As fast as you can,” he said, poking the upright nipple on the examination table as if it were a button summoning nurses and anesthetists—bringing him the polished scalpel for this surgical feat. I could imagine it. A slender version of a Roto-Rooter. A long, tubular razor, like a miniature of the mouth of a lamprey eel.

Dr. Jean Claude Vigneron eyed me as if I were a painting he was not quite finished with. “The water method?” he guessed.

“You’re ten for ten,” I said, just to please him. “Did any of your patients ever choose the operation?”

“Just one,” said Vigneron, “and I knew he would, from the start. He was a practical, scientific, no-nonsense sort of man. On the examination table he was the only one who scorned the tit.”

“A hard man,” I said.

“A secure man,” said Vigneron. He lit a foul, dark Gauloise and inhaled without fear.”

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