Date of Award
Master of Arts
During the scalding, dry summer of 1988, it would appear 23-year-old Dennis Dearbome is at a crossroads. More accurately, he is not on a road of any kind. The only child of affluent parents in suburban Minneapolis, Dennis finds his carefree existence at home unceremoniously ended when, after a string of lost jobs on his part, his parents decide to evict him from their house. At the same time, his father, an influential bank president, lands him a position as an illustrator for a small greeting card company. Dennjs can handle the technical demands of the job because of a natural ability (in which he had never taken much interest) with the pencil and the brush.
He feels disconnected, however, from his artistically pretentious coworkers and no closer to a direction for his life than he was before. Slowly, things begins to change when, at an estate sale searching for used furniture, he comes across an old drawing of a woman that touches him in a way be can't explain. The drawing is inscribed only with the signature of the artist, J. Grawer, and a cryptic phrase, "Water From the Moon.,"
Growing up in Chicago during the Great Depression, John Grawer turns to art as a refuge from the harsh realities of his life, particularly after his father abandons the family when John is only 12. John is forced to go to work at a young
age to help support the family, but through a stroke of Iuck he later winds up in a job as an artist for a department store advertising department. His newfound happiness is short-lived with the United States' entry into World Warn, and in 1943 he enlists in the Marines in order to force his younger brother, who wants to enlist himself, to stay home with their mother. In 1944, John is wounded in a freak accident before his platoon is to land on the beach at Saipan, of the Japanese-held Mariana Islands, and while recovering in a military hospital, John discovers that his entire platoon was wiped out during the fighting.
Wracked with guilt because he was not there to fight with them, John does not return home immediately after the war, instead volunteering for duty in occupied Japan, and when he does return,, he decides to follow a job lead to Minnesota, leaving his family, his art and his old life behind. Some time after the move, he meets a charming and beautiful young woman, Catherine Dempsey, and quickly falls in love with her, particularly with her way of embracing life in a manner he had never been able to do. He senses, however that something is not quite right with her, and she eventually reveals that she has terminal cancer.
In her final weeks, he draws a portrait of her and titles it "Water From the Moon," from a Japanese saying that means "Something you can never have." He never finds the courage to tell her he loves her, and he never finds out if she loves him or if he was simply a diversion from her illness. After her death, the drawing is returned to him, and be retires it to a box in his closet.
While taking the drawing out of its old frame, Dennis discovers a note Catherine had written to John and had intended for him to find. A short while after, Dennis discovers John is in a nursing home, suffering from serious health complications after a stroke. Dennis struggles about what to do with the note, which he feels contains information John would want, even more than 40 years later. Finally, Dennis brings the portrait and the note to John, whose memory has been ravaged by the stroke.
After a frustrating exchange, in which it appears John does not remember anything, John breaks down and admits ownership of the drawing. Over the next several months, John's health continues to deteriorate, but he has taken some comfort at Catherine's note, which, after years of disappointment and unfulfilled potential, provides him with a single shining light that makes his life seem worthwhile. In his last months, he begins drawing again with Dennis, who eventually realizes that he, like John, is an artist.
Duggan, Christopher A., "Water from the Moon" (2000). Theses. 576.