Posts filed under ‘Family sagas’
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.
The first in a planned 5-book series called The Clifton Chronicles (books 2 and 3 were published in 2012 and 2013, respectively, with books 4 and 5 still to come), Only Time Will Tell follows Harry Clifton, the only son of hardscrabble, hardworking Maisie Clifton and her dearly departed husband Arthur, an English dockworker. Or…..is he? Harry could in fact be the son of the wealthy Hugo Barrington, whose family owns the shipyard that had employed Arthur Clifton and Maisie’s brother, Stan. And just how had Arthur Clifton died, anyway? Had Hugo played a role in his mysterious disappearance?
Overcoming the odds of his humble life, Harry wins a vocal scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, where he befriends Hugo Barrington’s son, Giles. Harry and Giles soon become inseparable, and at Giles’ birthday party, a twelve-year-old Harry meets Emma Barrington–Giles’ younger sister– for the first time. Harry is charmed by the Barrington family, but Giles’ father seems to take an instant dislike to young Harry. Like it or not, the Cliftons and the Barringtons will be inextricably linked for years to come.
Archer’s epic tale has elements of a soap opera, yes, but even I–not usually a soap opera fan–thoroughly enjoyed the story and characters. The characters were rather “stock,” but well-developed enough that I truly cared about them and was interested in what happened. I rooted for the “good” characters while gasping at the dastardly deeds of others. In fact, Harry’s lowly upbringing, boarding school experience, and his predestination for greater things bring to mind another Harry. (Potter, anyone?) Fans of BBC dramas such as Downton Abbey might also particularly enjoy Archer’s sumptuous, satisfying tale.
For a more literary feel, try Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. Allende published this, her first novel, in 1982, and was soon considered the heir(ess) apparent to Latin American literary great Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Allende’s novel unfolds slowly, treating the reader to much description and setting up a sense of place. The South American country is never named, but is understood to be Chile. (Allende herself is a cousin of ousted Chilean president Salvadore Allende.) We start at the turn of the twentieth century in the childhood home of Clara del Valle, an ethereal, clairvoyant girl who predicts major events in her family. Clara eventually marries Esteban Trueba, a hacienda owner originally intended for her late sister, Rosa the Beautiful. We follow this pair, their children and eventual grandchildren, as Allende’s timeline traces important events in Chilean history, climaxing with the 1973 coup.
A big part of Allende’s style is magical realism, where magical elements exist in an otherwise realistic setting (Rosa the Beautiful’s green hair and yellow eyes, for instance, or Clara’s prophesies). This will require a degree of suspension of disbelief. However, readers looking for an epic literary tale spanning many years and several generations, with a political backdrop, will have much to celebrate here.