book review · novels · wally lamb

Book Review: “We Are Water” by Wally Lamb

41lLWwwyn9LI started this book about two months ago and finished it on Monday. For 561 pages, I made really good time with this one, but that’s probably because Wally Lamb is a favorite author and I hadn’t read one of his in ages! I really enjoyed this novel, even though it didn’t rival the magic that is “She’s Come Undone” (which I’ve read twice). “We Are Water” tackled several controversial topics (gay marriage, incest, religious belief and non-belief, to name a few), and did so with genuine appeal. (I don’t shy away from unappealing subject matter, and it’s a good thing I don’t because Lamb’s writing is characterized by complex, controversial emotional issues.)

Most obviously, the novel serves as a great exploration of our modern institution of marriage, which has progressed (or regressed, depending on your particular viewpoint) to a wide acceptance of lesbian and gay lovers. The two lesbian characters, Anna and Viveca, are so fully fleshed out and recognizable as to remind the reader of any adoring same-sex couple. We watch as Anna struggles to reconcile her terrible past with her pending nuptials to a woman whom she feels almost tentative love for at best. We understand her own guilt over falling out of love with her husband and in love with someone she’s not supposed to love “in that way.” We watch as her lover Viveca soldiers on (despite being largely distrusted by her bride-to-be’s family) in order to prove her love and intentions for Anna. We feel for both of these women, and we wonder “at what cost happiness” because, like the domino effect, once one starts falling…

Orion is another wholly understandable character, as he grapples with his wife’s betrayal at leaving him for a woman while everything else in his life is falling apart. After facing an awkwardly unfair sexual harassment charge, he ends up surrendering his old life for a completely shakable new one that doesn’t feel too comfortable at first. He must also contend with being invited to his wife’s wedding and his three adult childrens’ differing reactions to their mother’s new life. The children don’t have it easy, either, and I suppose the point of all this suffering is to remind us that nothing in life is easy, everything is relative to something else, and that, yes, life does go on.

This is not an easy book to read if you consider the topic of incest avoidable at all costs. (Lamb does not sugar-coat anything, and that’s why I love him as a writer. And of course, the awesome fact that he writes women so well!) Anna and her cousin Kent’s sections on what happened way back when can be slightly cringe-inducing but if you’re a well-read person and don’t mind “literary reality,” you’ll be fine.

I highly recommend this book not just for fans of Wally Lamb but for anyone who wants a nice, long read to put their lives back in perspective. I know some people might think that two months to finish a book is a long time, but for me it was more about not wanting the book to end. It truly didn’t lag for me in any way and the narrative and character sections provide a lot of insight into how each person is dealing with the trials of their individual and commingling lives.

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