Sunday, August 31, 2014

We Are Water

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Disclaimer one: This is an adult (or I suppose 'regular') fiction book. I usually blog about books that are considered young adult, but this was recommended to me, so I gave it a chance. Plus I had previously read two of Wally Lamb's other books, I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE and THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED, so I knew what I was getting into.

Disclaimer two: The nature of this book is a bit more gruesome. It deals with rape, abuse, pedophilia tendencies, and social issues concerning homosexual marriage. Reader discretion is advised.

Prepare for an insightful look at people, this one was a bit of a doozy.

An amazon summary, "We Are Water is a disquieting and ultimately uplifting novel about a marriage, a family, and human resilience in the face of tragedy, from Wally Lamb, the New York Times bestselling author of The Hour I First Believed and I Know This Much Is True.

After 27 years of marriage and three children, Anna Oh—wife, mother, outsider artist—has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her success. They plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut. But the 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 a layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs—nonconformist, Anna; 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. 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.
With humor and compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience and the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives." AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

In the two other Wally Lamb books I've read, the story was told from one narrator. This story was told from alternating narrators (quite a few of them) that gave more depth to the situation and history at hand.

The book begins with Annie Oh and Orion Oh getting a divorce. After 27 years of marriage, Annie has fallen in love with Viveca; the art dealer who garnered a lot of attention to her art. Due to Viveca's influence, Annie has become mildly famous and her artwork sells for a pretty penny. 

Orion is struggling to cope with Annie divorcing him as he's still in love with her and is trying to grasp why Annie would want to leave him to be with Viveca. Orion also retired early from being a psychologist for over 20 years for various reasons. He's looking to sell the house he and Annie called home for their marriage and move on to something else. Orion isn't entirely sure what that something else is yet, but he knows it needs to be different than what he's been doing.

Annie and Orion have three children together: the twins (Andrew and Ariane), and Marissa.

Ariane runs a soup kitcehn, struggles with self-esteem, really wants to have a kid, and has a good heart. She deals with what's put in front of her, good or bad, with compassion and determination.

Andrew lives in Texas, is a military man who has found religion, currently engaged, and is having a lot of trouble dealing with his Mom marrying another woman. His fiance isn't on board with it either, and they've chosen to not attend the marriage.

Marissa lives out west where she's struggling to become an actress. The first time Marissa takes hold of the narration, she reveals that in an attempt to get connections to get roles in different media (movies, TV shows, advertisements, etc) she agrees to perform sexual acts with her friend on a man on the stipulation that no intercourse takes place. Marissa winds up getting beaten up after the man flew into a rage and she's struggling to cope with the trauma. She's currently in the process of buying a gun and using alcohol to deal with it.

The book shuffles through mostly their narrations, but there is a in-depth twist to the story. The house that the Ohs called home for a long time has a small house in the backyard. More of a shack really. There is a well out there that is about five feet deep where a man allegedly fell in and drown in the 1950s. That man (whose name is escaping me and I don't have the book on hand to look it up - I want to say it's Jones) was an artist with no training who created very vivid paintings on almost any surface he could find (plywood, canvas, etc). He's paintings were often controversial themselves because he was a black man in a very oppressive area. There was a strong culture that believed white and black people should not mix on any social level and barely in the work force. As the book goes on, more is revealed about the artist and his mysterious death as well as how his paintings influenced the Ohs lives in surprising ways.

There's a lot of strong imagery involving water throughout the book. I'm not entirely sure why the water is so pivotal (besides the obvious title), but it might be more of an allusion to the ideology that no matter what happens, you can roll with the punches. At the core we will be who we are regardless of traumatic experiences.

With that said, through the chapters of Annie and her children, we learn that Annie was a mildly abusive mother. She used to hit Andrew especially when he made her mad (which would result in trips to the emergency room sometimes) and would go off about small things. Her kids love her, but they struggle with understanding why she was hot-tempered.

As the book winds on, we find out more about Annie's troubled past ( the death of her mother & baby sister, her first miscarriage, and almost first marriage), her struggles with men, and the sexual abuse she suffered as a child from her cousin Kent.

There are story segments told from Kent's perspective that are very revealing of his own trauma and abuse growing up, but also illustrate things he did to Annie when she was a child. It's pretty disturbing yet gripping material.

All in all, the story is very interwoven and really plays to the family element. I enjoyed it, but I definitely needed to watch a happy movie afterwards.

Happy reading!

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