We Are Water by Wally Lamb

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Reviewer: Ashley Mackler-Paternostro

We Are Water is a disquieting and ultimately uplifting novel about a marriage, a family, and human resilience in the face of tragedy, from Wally Lamb, the New York Times bestselling author of The Hour I First Believed and I Know This Much Is True.

After 27 years of marriage and three children, Anna Oh—wife, mother, outsider artist—has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her success. They plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut. But the 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 a layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs—nonconformist, Anna; 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. 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 compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience and the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives.”

Wally Lamb is an incubator. Every five years, or every ten years, and only occasionally at other points in time, does this talented author bless our bookshelves with a new novel. When they arrive, they are gifts. His books, as they always are, are journeys into the human soul and not simply novels. They follow the arc of lives, allow the characters to seep in secrets, touch upon sensitive topics, unfold slowly over the course of hundreds of pages and leave the reader not only drawn into world which he so beautifully writes, but aching because they know they will have to sit and wait while he produces another — a wait that will feel unforgivably long.

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In his latest offering WE ARE WATER, as he has in the past novels This Much I Know Is True and The Hour I First Believed, Lamb returns us to quiet town of Three Rivers, Connecticut to bare witness to legacy of the Oh’s.

Annie Oh is a ‘angry’ artist. Her medium is other peoples trash. Street-found trinkets that — with nothing more than the creative veins that roils inside her and a loud voice she likens to a cyclone — she curates into treasures. Treasures that sell for thousands upon thousands of dollars to a fictional client list of not-so-fictional characters. Her life in New York City looks strikingly different from her once humble, erratic beginnings in America’s foster care system. She is also a newly minted lesbian and as WE ARE WATER opens, we find Annie stumbling ever closer to her wedding to the woman cultured her vibrant career, Viveca.

Orion Oh is trying to hold it together while simultaneously trying to reinvent himself in the third act of his life. His children have grown, his wife–whom he tried to love and understand for the duration of their 27 years together– is no longer his wife but a New York lesbian with a wealthy fiancee he blames for his marriage failing, and his job as a college psychologist has imploded around him after a two-part cataclysm: Lust and distraction. Orion is not trapped solely in the present, his past, too, proves be a divide he cannot overcome as it left him riddled with the shrapnel of estrangement and the hole that always existed in his personal history is one that never quite filled itself up.

Annie and Orion’s three shared children — Ariane, Andrew and Marissa — are as different as they are similar. Each struggles in their own way with change in their personal life — a wedding, a baby, a fledgling career that requires certain, yet questionable, moral compromises — as well the change of their parents. One could liken their mid-twenties struggles to the struggles that mid-fifties parents are in the throes of, drawing the conclusion that life, no matter one’s age, is little more than a endless loop of choices, chances and possible regrets. Ah, the brilliance of Lamb reveals itself yet again.

As the wedding of Annie (or Anna, the name given to her by the highfalutin society of art and prestige she now travels with) and Viveca draws near, so do the individual secrets that members of the Oh tribe have struggled to push away. Secrets and truths, the family must fully acknowledge both to move on…but the secrets they’ve kept will, in one single moment, lead to new secrets they’ll be forced to keep as they try to move forward.

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WE ARE WATER is an astute, and at times harrowing, novel which begs to be read. Weaving chaotic pasts together with the present, the books delves heavily into many of the social issues we face today  — race, class, marriage, parenting, forgiveness, mental illness and homosexuality. The book is not a light read by any means, but an amazing one that asks a reader to set aside all of her preconceived notions and look deeper into the core of where those notions stem from. Very possibly the best book of 2013, add this to you TBR list and move it right to the top.

P.S: Lovers of Lamb’s first best selling novel She’s Come Undone should by close attention as a familiar face appears in this novel (as is almost the status quo for Lamb).

WARNING: WE ARE WATER does contain graphic scenes of child abuse (both sexual and physical) that may be upsetting/disturbing to the reader. 

TWFR Rating: 5 Stamps … An instant classic and a new favorite

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