Synopsis of "The Water-Method Man"

by Dan Harkins

Novelist John Irving wrote his second book, "The Water-Method Man," in 1972, when he was 29. It tells the story of Fred Trumper, a grad student of the same age with far more troubles than successes, who attempts to change his life before lies and cowardice sink him into obscurity.


Early in adulthood, Trumper is diagnosed with a congenital disorder that leaves him with an excessively narrow urinary tract. The irony is that his father is a urologist. Instead of the other alternatives to battle the condition -- surgery or abstinence from vice -- Trumper chooses a third option, the water method, which requires a substantial amount of drinking water before and after sexual intercourse to rid the body of harmful bacteria.

Key Characters

Along with Trumper, whose nickname is "Bogus" to illustrate some of his negative virtues, the book delves into the lives of his two love interests. First there's "Biggy," or Sue Kunft, the skier he marries while young. "Tumpen" is the woman of Trumper's present, who edits film in New York City, where Trumper is attempting to finally make his mark. Also factoring heavily in the story is Trumper's father, who disapproves of Trumper's first marriage and uses purse strings throughout the book to attempt to reform his often-erring son.

What's Happening

The book mainly chronicles the breadth of Trumper's failures, through flashbacks that intermingle with his current efforts to write a tired translation of an obscure Norse poem called "Akthelt and Gunnel" as his Ph.D. dissertation. Both the historical memories and the modern action lead the reader to believe that anything Trumper does he quickly abandons due to indecision.


A key theme in the book is a common one in literature: Trumper's desire to change his failing ways by changing his unvirtuous heart. When Ralph Packer invites Trumper to take part in a documentary as a sound editor, introducing him to a more modern form of storytelling already employed by his current love interest, Trumper is lead closer to discovering his new self: one that can finally finish his doctoral thesis and pursue his dreams to their completion.

About the Author

Dan Harkins has been a full-time journalist since 1997. Prior to working in the alternative press, he served as a staff writer and editor for daily publications such as the "St. Petersburg Times" and "Elyria Chronicle-Telegram." Harkins holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of South Florida.