Tor.com: February 2013
Nominated for the Hugo Award: Short Story
I spent enough time early in the story trying to work out exactly how the titular water works that I completely missed that the first sentence of the story explains exactly that. Apparently I don't read for content.
The water that falls on you from nowhere when you lie is perfectly ordinary, but perfectly pure.
Nothing hidden there. Tell a lie, and water falls on you from nowhere. It's weird and crazy and works very well as the foundation upon which the actual story is built. The actual story is a love story and a fear story, an ordinary but terrifying story of both coming out to one's parents and also introducing your partner to your parents at the same time.
It's how Chu uses the water and lies that makes this story work so well.
“That’s some display you just did there, Gus.” I’m stalling. Stop that. “I don’t love you, not as much as you obviously love me.”
The water that falls on you from nowhere is freezing cold.
Right. That's what he did there. It allows evasions and half truths and flat out lies to be demonstratively proven out as what they are to anyone around. It leads to payoffs later in the story with the parents, and with the use of the Chinese language and translations, and with how literal translations mean something specific. It leads to situations where it is important whether or not the water falls. It suggests different sorts of openness in conversations, or new evasions that weave truth with falsehood.
The longer I sit and think about the story, the more impressed I am with what John Chu accomplished here. Something both achingly familiar and remarkably fresh at the same time. Something beautiful.