Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Title:  We Are Water
Author: Wally Lamb
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

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

Anna and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers in 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.

My Review:

I am a sucker for novels with family drama, unexpected twists, and a good backstory.  Lucky for me, that sums up pretty much any fiction that Wally Lamb has written.  If you've read my review of Lamb's The Hour I First Believed , you know that I've adored many of his past novels.  And, I'm a tiny bit biased because he sets his books in the exact area of Connecticut where I grew up (more on that later).  However, in The Hour I First Believed, I noticed that he used the same structural format as he did in I Know This Much Is True, and I was worried that he was tending toward the formulaic.  In his new one, We Are Water, I can say without a doubt that that is no longer a worry of mine.

The novel begins from a somewhat confusing perspective--that of Mr. Agnello, a former bigwig in the art world, who is retelling the story of Josephus Jones, a deceased artist that he once took great interest in.  I wasn't sure how this would relate to the central plot of the novel, but knowing that Lamb often weaves in an interesting historical backstory, I took it all in.  Sure enough, this early chapter came back to the main story again and again, adding to the complexity of the underlying messages in the plot.

Once the rest of the novel gets underway, We Are Water is told from many perspectives.  The primary ones, at first, are those of Annie and Orion Oh--a recently divorced couple with three kids, and Annie is about to marry the woman that she left Orion for.  In the beginning, it seems that this is simply a story of a marriage gone wrong, and you're witnessing how the family is trying to pick up the pieces.  However, it quickly becomes much more than that.  As we get the POV of other characters (the three children, Annie's cousin, and even an unknown neighbor from years past), you quickly begin to realize that this story is much more than what it seems on the surface.  Family secrets come to light, and they're put in an interesting historical context next to the sidestory of Josephus Jones.

I can't say enough how much I loved the alternating POVs in this novel.  Each voice is wonderfully unique, and provides important new elements to the development of the plot.  Plus, this structure allows the reader to more fully jump into the laundry list of issues that are tackled in the novel: gay marriage, infidelity, incest, child abuse (yes, a lot of heavy stuff here).  By the end, my head was spinning with all that I'd taken in in under 600 pages!  But I didn't feel like any of these issues were given short shrift.  This is a novel that takes on a lot, and does it well.

A necessary note for the "local" readers: southeastern Connecticut references abound!  I am still convinced that the fictional Three Rivers is mostly meant to be Norwich (and it was hard not to think that Orion Oh worked for UConn), but Lamb also peppers the novel with references to other local towns/businesses: Groton, New London, Electric Boat, the casinos, and most importantly, Fitch High School (okay, it was a passing one-line reference, but as my alma mater, I got very excited).  I always love the local flavor that Lamb adds to his work, because he really does such a great job making that area come to life.

We Are Water gets a resounding YAY from me.  The characters alone are a driving force behind its awesomeness, but the issues they face (and the twists that follow) make it truly great.  If you want an issues-driven novel that has a flair for the unexpected, this one is for you.  And Lamb remains on my favorite authors list for sure!

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Wally Lamb on his Facebook page.


  1. I'm not always that excited about books described as being about family drama, but lately I have really enjoyed books about ordinary events that hide big secrets, so I think this sounds fascinating! Thanks for the great review :)

    1. I would totally recommend this one then. By the end of the book, I had a COMPLETELY different interpretation of the beginning than I did when it started!

  2. I adore Wally Lamb. Is it sad that I didn't even know this book came out? It sounds like it's going to be heart-wrenching and I can't wait to get my hands in it!

    1. Unless TLC had emailed me about this tour, I don't know if I would have known about it either! It just got released yesterday though, so you aren't too far behind. :)

  3. I had quibbles with The Hour of First Believed (so much tragedy, overkill!), but this one sounds so intriguing, I don't know if I can resist. :)

    1. There is a LOT of tragedy in this one as well, though I suppose not on as big of a scale as the Columbine events in the other novel. These are more individual tragedies but also quite hard to take in at times.

  4. I've heard mixed reviews on this one, but I'm glad to hear that you liked it, I always value the opinion of my favorite redheaded bookworm!

    1. Aw, thanks my dear! I am a Wally Lamb fan in general, so I wasn't surprised that I loved this one as well.

  5. Yes yes yes! I'd never read Wally Lamb before, but I loved this book for all the reasons you talked about in your review. The different POVs, the slowly unraveling secrets, the heavy issues, the Josephus Jones story woven in... it all came together so well!

    1. Agreed! I hope you get to read some of his other stuff, it's really excellent.

  6. Great review, Kelly :) By itself it sounds alright but your review has made me very interested, I have to admit. It sounds something that will stay with you for a good while.

    1. That's my aim with a positive review...making it sound even better than the book jacket. :)

  7. I will probably read anything Wally Lamb puts out, even though I usually feeling like I've been through an emotional wringer when I finish one of his books. I'm looking forward to this one... interested to see how I feel about the many POVs, as I keep complaining about how overdone the multiple POV thing is these days. I am hoping it is done as well and is as necessary to the story as you say.

    1. I get what you mean about the emotional wringer. He definitely lays it on thick! The multiple POV thing is definitely very popular right now...I've read a few books where it was done SO poorly, but thankfully it was a hit in this novel.

  8. I can definitely appreciate a "resounding yay"! So glad to see how much you enjoyed this book. Thanks for being on the tour.


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