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!