Next to air, water is the natural resource most taken for granted--and the one whose lack leaves us the most royally screwed. So wouldn't it behoove a corporation to corner the market on the stuff? That's the setup for Mark Swartz's second novel, H2O (Soft Skull). The year is 2020 and Chicago has grown to 40 million people as the residents of New York and LA have basically decamped to the midwest and its life-giving Great Lakes. (Las Vegas now sits on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, accessible by el.) Hayden Shivers is an engineer for giant "public-private venture" Drixa Corporation, which oversees water as well as utilities and the mail. On his honeymoon in Malta he stumbles upon a fungus that synthesizes water, and now Drixa is rushing the product, called H2O, to market without adequate testing. Shivers is concerned, but increasingly unable to act. Narrative lurches throughout the book effectively obscure much of Swartz's meaning, but the truth about H2O is revealed as the reader gradually realizes that the characters are wandering about with short-term memory loss. The cause could be the water, or the H2O, or any number of the pollutants rife in the environment, but no one seems in any shape to do something about it as this jittery, Vonnegut-esque comedy closes with a whimper. Bill Eyring of the Center for Neighborhood Technology introduces Swartz and discusses the issues raised. a Fri 1/19, 7 PM, Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910. F
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photoJennie Guilfoyle.