The dialect Hannah uses is more vivid than any other detail he could have rendered, and the old guys are funny, too, and their tales are mesmerizing. But "Water Liars" is about something profound. It is about our need to find redemption for the small mean things that make us human.
The narrator tells us he is a Baptist, and has just turned 33, the year Christ was crucified on the cross. The story opens with him recounting the jealousy he felt upon learning that his wife had had other lovers before she met and married him. Now he's traveled to this pier, to witness these old men in their storytelling ritual. The lean against the rail, telling stories that get increasingly mystical, until one of them, a geezer who doesn't quite know the rules, tops everyone by recounting the time he accidentally surprised his daughter in the middle of a sexual encounter with an older man, in a canoe in one of the river's sheltered coves. "My own daughter," he says, still shaken by the trauma and the shame of happening upon her and her lover.
It's a story no one wanted to hear, and the other old men castigate him. These stories aren't supposed to be true, they tell him. But the older man's story has an unlikely effect -- by holding up a mirror to the narrator, it grants him a kind of redemption.
The beauty of "Water Liars" is that its holds up the same kind of mirror for us as readers, and offers us the same sort of gift.