We Are Water is not a book one treads lightly. It is not a book that you buy for light reading or despite it’s name, as a good beach read. This novel is over 550 pages and covers topics from race to death to child molestation. As dramatic as this introduction is, I do not want to discourage readers from endeavoring on the journey. As exhausting as the novel is to read, the experience of feeling so much from one story is so unique it makes Wally Lamb’s novel a must read.
We Are Water tells the story of Annie Oh, a successful artist living in New York City, who is about to get married to her art coordinator, Viveca. Annie and family (ex-husband, children, and new wife) must come to terms with their pasts to move forward. (As a side note: Along with the touchy subjects, Wally Lamb also takes his readers into the art world in NYC, which I found extremely enlightening. So it’s not all death and destruction here, regardless of what you’re about to read in this review.)
I read the majority of We Are Water on a plane, which was a pretty ideal place, because I couldn’t run away from it. When covering such difficult topics (again, race, death, molestation) it can be very difficult to read at points. There were points where I had to physically take a breath before I started reading again. Looking back, I think that is what makes Wally Lamb’s book so incredible. You really, really feel this amount of dread when characters are faced with pain.
I can only imagine how extremely difficult (emotionally as well as writing-wise) writing these scenes must have been. But Wally Lamb never shies away from the most gruesome of human experiences. When you most want to look away, he forces you see. I think this is a quality that many writers lack and one that I admire most in Mr. Lamb.
But, of course, this goes both ways. As the reader you also get to experience character’s delight and joy along with their pain. And most importantly, you get to really understand them.
We Are Water switches points of view which makes for a very interesting read. I think the different points of view work to the story’s benefit, especially when you get to experience two characters you love and understand clash.
This, for me, as a reader and writer, was especially fulfilling. I find it extraordinary how intricately unique Mr. Lamb creates each character. As the reader, you understand both character’s points of view and you have experienced their pain, so when they clash you get the experience of really seeing.
This is perhaps most prevalent between Annie and her ex husband Orion. Both characters care a lot about each other, but their pasts, together and apart, have made them too different. Unable to understand each other, and hurt by their past relationship, they often fight and question one another.
And Lamb isn’t afraid of making you question his characters. Throughout the novel Annie and her family make some decisions that are cringe worthy. But when witnessing these mistakes there is no question as to why they were made. They were made because these characters are human. They are filled with fear and love and, like all humans, they act upon these emotions. Wally Lamb has this amazing ability to create true, beautiful and horrifying people. If anything I think it is worth reading We Are Water just to experience this amount of humanity.
We Are Water is a book I want to just sit around and talk about for hours and hours. I think when you read a good book, you are taken into, not just the characters’, but the author’s world. In the case of Wally Lamb, his world is filled with graphic horrors, violent delights and a lot of gray area in between.