We Are Water Wally Lamb 2013 / Harper Collins 565 pages
After reading "I Know This Much is True" and "She’s Come Undone" as well as "Couldn’t Keep It To Myself," Wally Lamb rose to the top of my list of favorite contemporary authors. While reading "She’s Come Undone," I had serious doubts that Lamb could be a male since he seems to understand women’s inner thoughts and experiences so well and makes his female characters so rich and three-dimensional. When I saw that Lamb had a new novel, I jumped at the chance to review it. "We Are Water" is the story of The Oh Family and is told from a variety of points of view, all very distinct and fleshed out so that you care about all of the characters, flaws and all. The six main voices are Orion and Annie Oh (husband and wife for 27 years, and recently divorced); their three adult children: Andrew, Ariane, and Marissa; and Kent Kelly, Annie's cousin. Each tells his or her own story with narrative combined with thought processes, making this a bit like another one of my favorite books, "Sometimes A Great Notion" by Ken Kesey.
The primary storyline revolves around Annie’s upcoming marriage to her wealthy art gallery rep, a woman, and her family’s reaction to this huge change in all of their lives - as well as Annie’s own thoughts and feelings about it. But that only scratches the surface of what this book is about and why it is important. As the chapters alternate between voices, we learn each character’s deepest secrets along with their life stories. Each is a very different person, and we can appreciate who and WHY they are who they are. Without revealing an important plot point, I was shocked at how much I empathized with a character who had been a child molester from a very early age - until I realized how he justified his actions and what a cold-hearted manipulator he was. It takes an exceptional writer to make a character like that sympathetic - even for a few chapters.
I found the underlying theme of story to be secrets and the long-range effects they can have on those around us. Many of those secrets came tumbling out as the story evolved, bringing understanding in some cases, rage and hurt in others. By the last chapters, there was still a huge secret shared with two of the main characters, but it was not doing either of them any good and remains unresolved.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with The Oh Family and highly recommend "We Are Water" to anyone who appreciates incredible character development while exploring a number of timely social issues.