on 15 November 2013
A lady in her early fifties decides that she is gay, leaves her husband of twenty seven years and her three grown-up children to enter into a lesbian relationship and eventual marriage. This is perhaps not the most earth-shattering premise for a contemporary novel, but Wally Lamb is by no means a run of the mill modern novelist. Indeed, in his masterful hands, the events leading up to Annie's wedding and the extensive back story of the characters involved, make this one of the most fascinating and intriguing novels that I have ever read.
When I posted a review of Wally Lamb's previous book (The Hour I First Believed), I referred to it as "Possibly the finest novel I have ever read" and although that sentiment holds true, "We are Water" comes very close. Once again, Lamb tackles some pretty controversial subjects, and once again the characters are deeply flawed, but it is these flaws that give the characters their depth. In fact, it is the character development that gives this book its richness. At the outset we think we know the characters, but as the narrative progresses we learn through back story and current events so much more about them - their secrets, weaknesses and frailties, none more so than Annie herself and (ex) husband Orion. As these characters grow and become more familiar, they take on a depth that brings them closer to life and closer to the reader.
The same is true of the children, who are not given their own voices until well into the narrative, and this gives them the opportunity to give us a deeper insight and understanding into Annie and Orion's relationship. As events are viewed from different perspectives we see how damaging and fracturing secrets and misrepresentations can be. Some reviewers, commenting on this say that they have found it boring and repetitive but for me however nothing could be further from the truth. This is where Wally Lamb comes into his own, and demonstrates his astonishing gift for character development.
As previously mentioned, Lamb does not flinch from tackling controversy - homophobia, racism and paedophilia are all approached with an alacrity and pragmatism that one has come to expect from him. Indeed, the sections dealing with paedophilia are among the most compelling but also uncomfortable chapters of the entire book. I suspect that few, if any writers could describe these scenes with the insight that Wally Lamb brings to them. His remarkable attention to detail and his even pacing of events allows us to get to know these characters intimately by the end of the book - we may not like them, but I don't think that is the point of the exercise, we know them for all their faults and failings.
Ultimately, "We are Water" is a journey; a journey of discovery and redemption. It is also a story of love and honesty, told with passion and sometimes humour, but at no time does it preach to its readers. It is a book I enjoyed immensely, as I have enjoyed all of Wally Lamb's previous books, and like his previous books, the characters linger long in the memory. I look forward to Mr. Lamb's next offering, and have no hesitation in recommending this book wholeheartedly, a triumph!
on 21 November 2013
A difficult read - yes. But a subject that needs to be addressed without hyperbole if we are ever to break the vicious circle of abuse. Wally tackles this subject with his usual fluidity, making it possible to read on, even through quite harrowing passages.
Ever since I've stumbled across his second novel, I've been a keen fan. This novel deepens my respect for Wally's work and makes me impatient for his next. Wally, your humanity speaks (through every one of your) volumes! Thanks for your hard work. Keep it up.
on 3 November 2013
Wally Lamb's latest offering "WE ARE WATER" has more in common with his last novel "THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED" than with his earlier works, which I loved. With WE ARE WATER Lamb has once again used the shotgun approach to his subject matter, firing at a wide range of topics and hoping something would hit the target. This narrative is one that explores everything from homosexuality, sexual predators, failed relationships, gay marriage and the childhood traumas that we carry forward into our adult lives, to revenge, murder, the ills of conservatism, artificial insemination, and the manner in which creativity, art and mental instability are inter-related. There is also a sub-plot exploring the class divisions in the U.S. as well as this countries heritage of racial, sexual and gender inequality. If that sounds like this plate is overflowing, well it is. If you also feel that attempting to digest all of these subjects may lead to indigestion, once again, you may be correct.
Utilizing flashbacks the novel retraces the 27 year marriage and break-up of half-Chinese, half-Italian university psychologist and his wife, an artist who creates her "art" from the cast-offs of others, as well as the lives of their three children as all attempt to deal with the painful truths in their individual lives related to the above referenced subject matter.
Like water, some of the characters in this book are initially shallow and self absorbed, others pursue lives that are turbulent and dangerous, while still others attempt to just "go with the flow" but find themselves caught up in the current with lives spiraling out of control.
A couple of observations and complaints: Item #1 - Once again Lamb has managed to squeeze in a few political comments as he takes some jabs at the previous resident of the White House, praises the current occupant, bemoans the lack of funding for stem cell research, and portrays Texas as a bastion of Christian conservative racists and bigots. Item #2 - The way the book ended. After 512 pages of intricate and in-depth detail the book abruptly jumps to Part V - THREE YEARS LATER - and wraps up in a quick 46 pages. It almost appeared that the author suddenly realized he had written over 500 pages and opted for a quick conclusion OR perhaps he was just attempting to be eco-friendly and was doing his part in saving a tree.