We Are Water by Wally Lamb
We Are Water was the TTL Thursday Night Book Club selection for January 2015. This book generated a great discussion!
The TTL Book Club is a library-sponsored book club that is open to all. We meet every other month and take a break for the summer. Our next meeting date is March 26, 2015.
We Are Water is an ambitious – and lengthy – novel by the acclaimed author of She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True. In it, Wally Lamb has created a saga focusing on the Oh family in Three Rivers, Connecticut, that spans several decades and deals with racism, divorce, gay marriage, the NYC art world, natural disasters, murder, and familial abuse, among other things.
The story opens with a somewhat confusing and tangential account from a venerable local artist. (This character is never heard from directly again – he is connected to the story, but it’s not immediately clear how.) It then unfolds from the point of view of all five Oh family members – Annie, a newly famous shock-artist about to marry her art-dealer girlfriend, Vivica; Orion, divorced from Annie and a psychologist at a turning point in his career; and their three grown children Andrew, Ariane, and Marissa, all with varying problems and prejudices of their own. Annie, Orion, and Andrew get the largest narratives, while Ariane, Marissa and a few other supporting characters round out the chapters.
Lamb’s take on the Oh family and the small town they call home is engaging, if a little too ambitious at times. It almost feels like he was trying to write three different novels: one about the dissolution of Annie and Orion’s marriage and Annie’s new-found discovery of herself; one about the long-term effects of various forms of domestic abuse; and one about the persistent culture of racism that exists even in the years immediately following the election of an African-American president.
Scattered focus notwithstanding, where We Are Water truly benefits is in Wally Lamb’s gift for character development. Lamb has worked with and taught writing to incarcerated women, and his empathy for the down-trodden shines through in his characters. His gift for characterization is especially evident in his portrayal of Orion Oh, a man who is coming to terms with many things in his life, not least his family’s deep emotional scars.
We Are Water is a thought-provoking book that encourages discussion on a variety of topics. It may be just the book to sink your teeth into during these long, cold winter days.