Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: We Are Water

Summary: In middle age, Annie Oh—wife, mother, and outsider artist—has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Annie has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.

Annie and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's box of toxic secrets—dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.

We Are Water is an intricate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs—nonconformist Annie; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest Oh. Set in New England and New York during the first years of the Obama presidency, it is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.

With humor and breathtaking compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience in vivid and unforgettable characters struggling to find hope and redemption in the aftermath of trauma and loss. We Are Water is vintage Wally Lamb—a compulsively readable, generous, and uplifting masterpiece that digs deep into the complexities of the human heart to explore the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives. -- Harper

WE ARE WATER by Wally Lamb was definitely one of the books I was most excited to read after this year's BEA. Mr. Lamb has been one of my favorite authors for years -- ever since SHE'S COME UNDONE was chosen as an Oprah Book Club book. I have always loved his ability to create special characters, and his writing is just a pleasure to read. Do I even need to mention how excited I was to actually meet him? I'm pretty sure I made a fool out of myself.

At its heart, WE ARE WATER is a family saga. It's told in multiple voices with plenty of flashbacks. Annie Oh is and artist and middle aged mother who has left her longtime husband for Viveca, her art dealer. The focus of the book centers around their upcoming nuptials in Three Rivers, Connecticut; and as you can probably expect, there are some emotional responses to the wedding from Annie's ex-husband and children. In the days leading to the wedding, family secrets are revealed... some of which are extremely painful.

I should probably start by saying that there are many wonderful things about WE ARE WATER; however, I don't think it's my favorite Wally Lamb book to date. The novel was really long (over 550 pages) and very detailed with flashbacks -- some pertinent and others not quite as much. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I got tired of the book because I am such a huge fan of Mr. Lamb's, but I did question why this book tried to cover so many serious topics. At one point during my reading, I sat back and honestly questioned how much more could happen to this family and this small town.

I admit that it did take me a long time to write this review -- I actually finished the book long before the holidays. It's not that I didn't enjoy the novel because I really did like so many things about it. I just wanted to love it; and instead, I only liked it a lot. I probably had incredibly high expectations. Having said that, I was once again extremely impressed with Mr. Lamb's storytelling abilities as well as his prose, and there were times that I was blown away by his descriptions or his way with words. Furthermore, I loved the complexity of the characters and how they had so many issues both with themselves and each other. I truly just love reading anything Mr. Lamb writes.

One thing that really stood out to me about WE ARE WATER was how well Mr. Lamb addressed the topic of family. The Oh family had a little bit of everything happen to them, and I loved how the author explored their individual reactions to tragedy and loss. I truly believe Mr. Lamb just sees people differently than most of us; and as a result, he has a unique ability to create memorable (and very real) characters. He also develops intense relationships between his characters that I find fascinating.

I definitely appreciated how this story was told through the eyes of various characters. I thought Mr. Lamb did an excellent job of capturing the different voices and revealing their stories in an interesting way. I think the presentation of different viewpoints as well as Mr. Lamb's use of flashbacks kept the story moving and and allowed him to reveal the family (and town's) secrets in bits and pieces. It also gave me a better understanding of the inner conflicts that there characters were experiencing because often, their actions were in direct opposition to their thoughts.

In WE ARE WATER, Mr. Lamb did an excellent job of showing the strength and resilience of humans; and I just love that message. Though there were many major and minor losses that occurred to this family, Mr. Lamb managed not to make this book a total downer. Rather, he demonstrated how much of a challenge the entire healing process is and how different people handle the pain. Furthermore, he showcased the power of hope and redemption which ultimately is why I think this novel was so special.

WE ARE WATER would make an outstanding book club selection and I have a feeling that many groups will be choosing this novel... especially once it's released in paperback. There is a reading guide available with fourteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, parent/child relationships, marriage, abuse, prejudice, social injustices, crime, rape, forgiveness, redemption, healing, grief, loss, and love. I listed quite a few major themes, but trust me when I say there are many, many more!

WE ARE WATER is a gripping family saga with memorable characters and an intriguing story. Highly recommended to fans of Wally Lamb and readers who enjoy books about complex families.

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.


bermudaonion said...

I love Lamb and his work too and have been intimidated by this book because it's so long. I wonder if it would have been better written as a duology.

Beth F said...

I haven't yet read this, despite how much I love Lamb, because I haven't had the time to read or listen to a long book. I *will* get to it one of these days, though.

Unknown said...

Love Wally Lamb and felt much the same about We Are Water as you did. He tackled so many themes and touched about every current event or political issue possible. Enjoyed it but did not feel it was his best work!