June 16, 2021

The Sweetness of Water

Review by
Nathan Harris’ Civil War-set debut novel celebrates all manner of relationships that combat hate.
Share this Article:

Nathan Harris’ Civil War-set debut novel, The Sweetness of Water, paints a timeless portrait of warring factions seeking peace.

As the novel opens, white landowner George Walker encounters brothers Landry and Prentiss, recently freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, on the outreaches of his property. George invites the brothers to join him as paid laborers on his Georgia peanut farm, which incites the ire of his rural neighbors. George’s wife, Isabelle, expects his interest in the brothers to wane, like it has toward all his other ventures. But George proves her wrong. 

Work on the farm is well underway when the Walkers’ son, Caleb, unexpectedly returns from war. As a deserter, Caleb gives the town one more reason to dislike the Walkers. A fiery standoff ensues, after which Isabelle emerges as a quiet heroine pursuing ideals of friendship, liberty and justice.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: For the audiobook edition, William DeMeritt performs with such skill that the listener will be able to envision Nathan Harris’ character’s faces just by the way their voices sound.

There is a shared longing at the heart of Harris’ novel. Caleb and Prentiss both love people they can’t have. Landry is continually drawn to and inspired by a stone fountain on the plantation from which he escaped. To him the fountain conveys majesty and magic, comfort and joy, “something mysterious and fine . . . operat[ing] endlessly. On and on, just like life.” George, too, is driven by something he can’t capture; he searches for the elusive source of his restlessness, represented by a mythical beast he’s sure abides in the forest.

Harris draws readers into this sense of longing by exploring silences: George’s meditative hunts, Landry’s muteness, Caleb’s hidden trysts, Prentiss’ pent-up anger and Isabelle’s secluded mourning. Insinuating dialogue, delivered with eloquent Southern reserve, and hostile eruptions between the Walker household and the Confederates explore the flip side of silence.

Celebrating all manner of relationships that combat hate, this novel is a hopeful glimpse into the long legacy of American racial and civil tensions.  

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.