The flood is coming, it is the end of days, and all the world – or at least Tennessee – is awash with fear, nostalgia, and a bit of hijinks. A modern-day Noah’s Ark is afoot, only with more politics, corruption, and music, of course. This is the world that David Wesley Williams has created in his new novel, Everybody Knows, and it’s a story not only reminiscent of the past but also a forewarning for the future.
From the get-go, the reader is put in their place and meant to understand this story will not be filled with sunshine and rainbows. Just rain. The narrator states, in fact, “This is a story of rain and more rain, high water and the search for higher ground… The rain was all. There was only rain.” Rain and whiskey are the only constants in Everybody Knows – that, and of course, the persistent, if not blatant, fact that the storm everyone is facing is mostly of their own making. But, who are we as humans to notice our own faults and remedy the wrongs before the flood comes?
The other facts – the characters, the troubles, the impending peril – fluctuate and bend depending on which charcter we’re following. The story toggles back and forth between multiple points of view in various locations throughout Tennessee. There is, for instance, the archetypal political figure from Nashville, who is brazen and obtuse, traveling by boat with his wife, two mistresses, and right-hand man as they search for dry land. Then we have the couple – the Floods – who each has a past that remains present. But the Floods love each other, almost as much as they love drinking whiskey as they watch the world melt away in all the rain.
There is also the writer and the specter always by his side. Last, there is God, or the writer as a god, or God controlling the writer, controlling the rain. The story weaves in and out in a fascinating portrayal of these characters’ – or, rather, caricatures – lives as they witness the end of days.
In the background of every storyline is the pulsing heartbeat of the book: music. As a relevant character in itself, music – specifically Southern bluesy and country hits – maintains a steady thrum throughout every character’s plot and development. From Patsy Cline to Charlie Patton, Albert E. Brumley to Bob Dylan, or Muddy Waters to Elvis himself, mentions of musicians, songs, and entire musical genres are sprinkled as liberally throughout the story as the barbed commentary of wayward politicians and regretful situations that weren’t taken seriously enough when there was time to remedy them.
Everybody Knows is a staunch satire that criticizes the state of the world and sheds light on not only problems of the past and present, but also the moral ineptitudes of how these problems will bleed into the future. Threaded within all that sarcasm there is an educational element offered as the story unfolds. All the references to historical figures, the homages paid to writers such as William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Herman Melville, and, of course, Mark Twain, and especially the footnotes – offered in the voice of the book’s “author” – give in-depth knowledge about the relevant details about all the people and places. Of course, the stylistic choice to include footnotes versus including the facts within the story comes with its own downfall in the form of disrupting the flow. Although being pulled out of the rhythm is never ideal when trying to engage in another world, the footnotes are worth circling back to, if only to understand the story and references more thoroughly.
With all the puns and parodies intertwined in this story, with the characters who talk and belittle and degrade as if they are above everyone else, and with all the throwbacks to classic literature and music of a certain time period, it’s easy to forget that Everybody Knows is set not in the 1960s South but, in fact, 2030. It is ten years after George Floyd and the Covid-19 pandemic. It is ten years of missed opportunities and lessons that weren’t learned. It is – in addition to the clever quips, historical allusions, and a cast of intriguing characters – a warning. It is not yet too late. But one day, the rain will come, and there will only be rain.
By David Wesley Williams
Published January 16, 2023