Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Review: We Are Water
hardcover, 576 pages
Harper, October 22, 2013
a review copy was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours
Readers of Wally Lamb's previous books (She's Come Undone, I Know This Much is True, The Hour I First Believed, and Wishin' and Hopin') will find some familiar themes and motifs. We Are Water is set in Lamb's fictional Three Rivers, Connecticut, and twins, family secrets, mythology, and the power of art are all crucial elements in the novel.
Annie and Orion Oh have divorced after twenty-seven years of marriage, and now Annie and her lover Viveca are getting married in Three Rivers, now that gay marriage is legal in Connecticut. Annie is an Outsider artist with a troubled past; her mother and sister were swept away in a historic flood when Annie was only six years old. After the death of Annie's mother and infant sister, Annie's father succumbed to alcoholism, and Annie spent the rest of her childhood in foster care. Annie's ex-husband, Orion, is a psychologist who has his own demons, past and present. Orion is troubled by a crisis that ends his career (the details of which he hides from his family), the suicide of a young patient, and questions about the father he never knew. Annie and Orion have three grown children: twins Ariane and Andrew, and Marissa.
While the plot of We Are Water revolves around the Ohs and Annie's impending marriage, there is a back story--or several. Annie's Outsider creations (she is an untrained artist subject to fits of inspiration) are somehow related to the work of African-American artist Josephus Jones, an unschooled artistic genius who died under mysterious circumstances in 1963. Jones's home--and the well where he was found dead--are both located at the back of the property where Annie and Orion spent their married years and raised their children together.
We Are Water is told mainly through alternating chapters, narrated by Annie and Orion. There are multiple points of view, though, in this complex and compelling novel. Lamb is determined to give every character his or her voice, even an unrepentant pedophile. Out of all the various narrators whose stories come together in We Are Water, the voice of Annie's abuser was the most difficult to read. Wally Lamb has written a novel that seemingly encompasses the entire flood of life: ancient hurts and secrets, the redemptive power of art, the cyclical nature of violence and abuse, and the search for identity. It takes many voices to tell the entire story of We Are Water, and Lamb's book is a tour de force of narrative structure; this powerful and beautiful book takes unimaginable pain and destruction, and demonstrates that even out of darkness, pain and abuse, beauty and love can be born.
The characters in We Are Water are all flawed, and many of them do destructive things. By giving readers the back story, delving into secrets from Annie and Orion's pasts, Lamb creates a sense of brokenness that can be made whole, and the ever present possibility of redemption, no matter how dark the sin or the secret. For readers who have enjoyed Wally Lamb's previous novels, We Are Water will be not disappoint. We Are Water is highly recommended for readers interested in complex psychological tales laced with mythological motifs.