Published by Harper 978-0-06-228116-6
Hardcover, $29.99, 576 pages
The first book I read by Wally Lamb was She's Come Undone and I can recall being so moved by his characters and his beautiful prose. I have since read other books by him - I Know This Much Is True and The Hour I First Believed- and was deeply moved by them as well.
I was able to meet Wally Lamb last year at a party at BEA and was so pleasantly surprised to find out how funny he was; his books are so serious and yes, sad. I went to an event where he spoke with John Searles about John's book Help For The Haunted, and again he was so quick-witted and charming.
Lamb's latest novel is We Are Water, another sad story. Annie Oh is a successful middle-aged artist who creates what some people would call violent works of art. She began creating dioramas in the basement of the home she shared with her husband, a therapist at a college, and her three young children.
Now her children are grown- Ari lives across the country at works in a non-profit organization and wants desperately to have a baby. Andrew is in the army, has become ultra-conservative with a fiancee who turns to Dr. Laura for advice and Marina wants to be an actress, but hasn't gotten any work.
Annie's husband Orion is shocked when Annie announces she wants a divorce to marry a woman- Viveca, her art benefactor and dealer. Marina is fine with the marriage, she likes Viveca, in part because she is rich and takes Marina shopping. Ari is willing to support her mother, but Andrew is opposed to the marriage on moral grounds.
Viveca pushes Annie to marry at her old farm house, the one in which she lived with Orion and her children. Orion, hurt and confused, feels like this would be yet another betrayal. Annie has kept secrets from him, things that happened in her past as a young girl, and he finds that his children kept secrets about their mother from him as well.
The theme of secrets and the damage they cause to those who keep them and the consequences of finally revealing them is explored in depth here. If Annie had trusted Orion with her secret, would things have been different for them? When Annie finally reveals her secret, the consequences are devastating.
Another theme here is the function of art. As an art judge says:
"What is the function of art? What is its value? Is it about form and composition? Uniqueness of vision? The relationship between painter and painting? Sometimes I'll award the top prize to a formalist, sometimes to an expressionist or an abstract artist. Less often but occasionally I will select an artist whose work is representational. But whenever and wherever possible, I celebrate art that shakes complacency by the shoulders and shouts "Wake up!"Annie's art certainly shakes complacency. Her family doesn't understand where all the anger comes from, but Viveca knows how to make money from it.
I liked what Annie said about love early on in her relationship with Orion.
"Maybe that's what love is. Having someone who guides you through different experiences, coaxes you to try new things but still makes you feel safe."We Are Water is such a multi-layered book, filled with emotion and depth and characters you can relate to. We see their flaws and their hurts, and the sibling relationships in particular feel so real. Lamb succeeds once again by bringing deep inside characters so that we can see their humanity.
rating 5 of 5