In the near future, when you tell a lie, you will be hit with cold water, either a torrential dousing or a cool misting, depending on the intensity of the lie. That’s the world Matt lives in when he decides to tell his traditional Chinese parents that he is engaged to another man.
The most compelling aspect of the story is immediacy of the physical manifestation of lying. When Matt says he doesn’t love his fiancé and gets drenched with cold water, more than just his lie is revealed. The water betrays his insecurity and inability to express his true feelings. Contrasting that is Michele’s lie that Gus will, some day, betray Matt, something it seems she wants to believe, but which isn’t actually true. In both of these cases the lie reinforces love, not despite the lie being known but because it is known. The water does not force truth, it only announces it. Even knowing that lying no longer means deceiving, people continue to lie.
They continue to deceive as well, but the deception requires more care. But even the deception reveals itself. “Phrasing things in the form of a question. That and weasel words work as insurance against the water that falls from nowhere. They just make it extremely obvious that you’re hedging against the truth.” This is something people do even without water falling from nowhere, and most of the time we allow it, for whatever reason.
More stunning and heart breaking than the lies, however, are the truths that are told. The characters are repeatedly surprised when water doesn’t fall: Gus’s earnest profession of love; Matt’s mother’s assertion that one must eat even when he is not hungry; Matt’s own absurd anecdotes about his sister’s disparagement of him. The knowledge that these things are, somehow, objectively true and not merely false statements of opinion or unrealizable fancies gives them a greater weight even than the expected lies.
̛In the end, the only way to lie, to truly lie in the way we think of the word, becomes to simply not say anything. Fundamentally, this story is not about how people lie to each other, but how they allow themselves to tell the truth. Matt learns that everyone around him understands him better than he would have believed. There is no need to lie, or even to keep silent. That he is finally able to speak the truth at the end, if only to an empty hotel room, shows that he is finally realizing that speaking truth hurts so much less than not – even when you don’t tell any lies.