We Are Water by Wally Lamb
576 pages; Harper; October 2013
Say what you will about Oprah’s Book Club, but back in the day, when it first started, it actually introduced me to quite a few excellent books and authors. Jacquelyn Mitchard; Billie Letts; Wally Lamb. Sometimes her picks were too sappy, and sometimes they were one-hit wonders (and I know everyone got all snobby when EVERYONE was reading the same books – because heavens forfend something become popular; it’s never good when it’s popular, right?) but there were quite a few books that, early on, I was liking a great deal. And there’s nothing wrong with someone with the world’s ear recommending good books. If it gets people reading, I’m all for it. (And listen, it’s not like she was recommending Fifty Shades, people. These books ranged from very good to harmless, for the most part.)
I discovered Wally Lamb when Oprah recommended She’s Come Undone, which remains one of my all-time favorite novels. I’ve re-read it a number of times. I relate to this book. You know I love lost people, broken people, people looking for something and working so hard to find it. This book was perfect for me. I’ve read everything he’s written since, and although nothing lived up, for me, to She’s Come Undone, I’ve liked his work a great deal.
That being said: this one didn’t do it for me.
Annie Oh is an outsider artist who realizes, after 27 years of marriage and three children, she’s unhappy. She leaves her husband and falls in love with Viveca, a Manhattan art dealer, much to the confusion of her husband, Orion. Her children are in various stages of acceptance or denial about their mother’s (to them, at least) new-found attraction to women, and Annie herself isn’t sure if she’s doing the right thing. Secrets start coming out – about Annie’s past, Orion’s job, the lives of of their now-adult children, the history of their house – and the secrets can potentially sink everyone in the Oh family.
Here was my problem with this book: I didn’t like, or relate, to a single character.
I’m not saying you have to like all the characters in a book in order to like it. Sometimes you hate ALL the characters in a book, and you still like the book, somehow. That’s ok. But every character in this book somehow rubbed me the wrong way. I understood (because it was finally explained) why they were the way they were, and I did have some empathy for them…but I still didn’t LIKE them. The book was very much about how the past formed the future, and apparently the past formed these people into no one I’d ever like to meet and/or read about at length.
Wait, I take that back. There was one character I liked, but by the time the book started, he was dead. So he was kind of hard to relate to, being dead and barely a character, because of the deadness, and all.
I also feel like maybe there were parts of this that were written possibly just for the shock value? And I hate to think that, because I really like Wally Lamb. But things went a little too far where they didn’t need to in places, and I wondered why, exactly, he chose to do that. (Just a quick note: this is a super-triggery book, child-abuse wise, and I don’t know how else to say this without being spoilery, so I’m just going to stop there. If that’s something you can’t have in a book, stay far away from this.)
I didn’t hate it. I don’t want you to think I did. Wally Lamb writes well, and the plot wasn’t boring, per se. I just kept trying to connect with these characters and I couldn’t. I liked the parts about art (and wished there had been more), but honestly, I spent most of the time reading this saying things like “WHY DON’T YOU PEOPLE GO INTO THERAPY FOR THE LOVE OF PETE!”
I suppose I can’t love ’em all – and I’ll keep reading Wally Lamb’s books. One misstep doesn’t mean I’m walking away. But if you’re a Wally Lamb fan, and are expecting this to be like his other work – word of warning, it’s not.