We Are Water
By Wally Lamb
Harper October 2013
From the library
Anna Oh is ready to embark on a new stage of life. Her children are grown, she has separated from her husband and she is about to marry Viveca, her art dealer. The wedding will take place in Three Rivers, Conneticut, where the Oh children grew up. The family is in shambles - oldest daughter Ariane has made a giant decision without the input of her family, Andrew is engaged to a very opinionated young woman, and Marissa is trying to make her way in the tumultuous world of acting. Annie's ex-husband Orion is unsure where to go next, as his marriage and career have both ended. The family's reunion will unearth secrets from each of their lives, as well as long-buried secrets from the history of Three Rivers itself.
Wally Lamb manages to take a very typical plot point - a family coming together for a wedding - and turn it on its head. The characters in this story are so well developed. That could have something to do with the almost 600 pages that it takes to tell the story, but I think it has more to do with Lamb's craftsmanship. Each one of the characters feels nuanced and alive. You will care about their stories because they feel like people you know.
Mr. Lamb has two incredible gifts as an author. The first is to make connections between the past and the present. While the primary narrative is about the Oh family, we also learn about the history and people of Three Rivers, Connecticut. The Oh family home was once home to another artist who died under mysterious circumstances. This author succeeds at making dual story lines equally interesting and making them converge in interesting and surprising ways.
The second thing that Lamb excels at is bringing humanity to very flawed people. There were two characters in this book who, at some moments, really made my stomach turn. These people do horrific things and they aren't excused for their actions. But you do have to sit with them for a while and hear their stories to see the ways in which abuse engenders more abuse. In reading this book, we find that sins of omission can be just as devastating as willful acts and that everyone is guilty in some way.
Wally Lamb is an incredibly talented writer. Reading one of his novel is not a casual venture. It is a choice to get to know a set of characters and immerse yourself in their lives, their pain, and their joy. We Are Water is a fitting addition to Lamb's canon.