Published by Harper
Publication date: October 22nd 2013
How a work can be solid and delicate, earthy and of air is a mystery but describes Wally Lamb’s novel, We Are Water. Ostensibly it is the story of Annie Oh—wife, mother, artist and keeper of secrets, secrets that grow and beget other secrets, changing her life and the lives around her. When she is only five, she watches as her mother is swept away by a flood, along with her baby sister. Her father turns to drink in his despair and she is left largely in the care of a teenage cousin, Kent, to whom she clings in her desperation for security.
Despite this traumatic childhood, the rest of Annie’s life progresses through largely normal channels. She marries a good man, gives birth to twins, and later, a daughter. It is the arrival of her children that opens a door within her, one of creativity, which leads to three dimensional pieces of art, and eventually to her recognition and success as an artist. At this point, she falls in love with her art dealer, Viveca, and leaves her husband and their grown children to move to New York City and live with her. The novel begins with their impending wedding in Connecticut, an event that brings the past crashing into the present.
We Are Water is told alternately by each member of the Oh family, so we hear from father Orion, twins Ariane and Andrew, baby sister Marissa, and Annie herself. As they reconstruct family history from their own perspective there are areas that distinctly mesh and those that do not. Lamb writes in the language of families from the most petty of actions to the larger, more confusing times, times that are often not remembered by all but left to fade away, replaced by something better. The family rewriting of history. In his inimitable way, he draws us into the family circle, plying us with childhood fights and name calling, marital discord, and the pull between one’s dreams and one’s obligations, creating a deep empathy for and recognition of his characters. We not only know these people and their battles but we may be them as well. It is as our attention is held by these everyday dramas that the past unspools like a wayward bale of barbed wire, slashing and cutting indiscriminately. It creates pain and permanent damage but Lamb still manages to leave us with the poignant beauty of familial love and how we go on, even when it does not seem possible.