“Thirst” provokes but ultimately disappoints

By: McKenna Graham, Columnist 

Title: “Thirst”
Author: Benjamin Warner
Genre: Contemporary, science-fiction
Rating: Two stars
Warnings: Assault, murder, suicide

This novel, set in contemporary Maryland, is about a man’s struggle to survive when all of the water spontaneously disappears–from the nearby streams and from the plumbing, but not from bottles. His wife is with him for the duration of the story, and his neighbors play definitive roles, but the story is set in this man’s head, with the reader perched on his shoulder, watching as an outsider being told what’s happening.

For this to be the mode of storytelling, the reader must like or at least sympathize with the man. But Eddie is neither likeable, nor capable of garnering sympathy–he comes off as being selfish and easily manipulated. I don’t think he is a strong character, nor is he brave, nor is he noble. He gets in his own way, and everyone else’s, and he is incapable of making any decision based on anything other than spontaneous thoughts and whims. His wife, Laura, puts up with him, but there doesn’t seem to be any love between them. Their relationship feels forced and empty, their characters flimsy, their choices somehow liminal–even after something has been decided, things have a certain “neither here nor there” quality to them. It feels, in short, like nothing of consequence ever happens or ever matters.

In fact, none of these characters feel real at all. They’re all so two-dimensional, so easily classified and placed into tropes, that it feels like a couple hundred pages of the novel could be removed and the story would still remain the same. Nothing really happens, there’s no real character development, and the conflicts seem entirely inconsequential; even when someone dies, there’s no feeling of reality, of “this matters or this makes the story better” or even “this does something for the plot.” Arguably only two characters even need to be in this story: Eddie and a boy who appears throughout. Everyone else–the neighbors, the threats, even his wife–are irrelevant to the core conflict. They feel like bells and whistles, like accessories, like hangings to make the story more appealing and more relatable.

Which it isn’t. At least, it wasn’t for me. Two-thirds of the way into the story, I didn’t feel like I was enjoying it any more than I had through the first third, which is to say, not really at all. The characters weren’t convincing or appealing, and the plot, though it had such potential, fell entirely flat. This is a story about an ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary situation, and I was so intrigued by what he was going to do, but I felt no gratification at the end of the book. I had spent the entire novel waiting for it to get interesting, waiting for it to suck me in, waiting to feel the intrigue and excitement of a good story, but I felt none of that. Eddie is blah, and this story feels like it tells three hundred pages of nothing. There isn’t even a build toward a climax (nor was there a climax)–or there wasn’t for me. Nothing is ever even explained; the reader knows no more at the end of the story than they did at the beginning.

Maybe I missed something? Maybe it was meant to be a commentary on what it means to be a neighbor, or on the whole “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” syndrome? Maybe I was supposed to relate to Eddie? But he has no saving grace, there is no reason to like him or root for him, and no reason to be interested in his story. This story is so blah to me–it didn’t do anything for me.

I struggled with the rating of this book before settling on two out of five stars; that is to say, I don’t entirely regret reading it, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone looking for a good story and I know there are other novels I would much rather read. To me, at least, a story worth reading shouldn’t make you question why it was worth reading, which is what happened with “Thirst.” The title makes me think I missed something. It feels almost too literal, like this is a story loaded with symbolism that went way over my head. Maybe I’m just not a very good reader, but if there was more to this story, it was way too subtle for me to catch on.

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