A small disclaimer up front: I absolutely love Wally Lamb's books, but they are NOT pretty reads. He has an incredible gift for writing stories about people that are messy, disturbed, dysfunctional and sometimes not very nice. Yet he does in a way that is so real and true to the characters. Even though the story may not sit too well with the reader, there's something about his storytelling that always compels me forward.
We Are Water was no exception. From the introduction to the story, we are propelled through a journey that touches on a number of icky topics, from racism to segregation to pedophilia to sexual abuse. Although there were certain scenes that were tough to read, I flew through this 500+ page novel in a remarkably short period of time.
In the prologue of the story, an aging artist is being interviewed about Josephus Jones, a black painter who died before he became famous. His work has post-humously become quite valuable, and the reporter is interested in learning about the artist who gave Jones a "Best in Show" prize at a local art show, which shocked and outraged the community. From there, we are catapulted into a switching narrative that goes primarily back and forth between Orion and Annie Oh, former husband and wife who are have their own unique struggles to face. Interspersed into their alternating narrative are a few other characters who each take a turn at telling the story.
There were a few moments in the story where I could see what was coming and cringed as I anticipated the next moments unfolding. But instead of having that moment unfold, the narration would switch characters and I'd be transported into a different place. It made the pace of the story really unpredictable, which really worked to keep me reading. I never knew who was going to narrate next, and where I'd be taken.
It's hard to know exactly what to say about this story without spoiling any of the plot, so I'm just going to focus on the title. I love the title and feel that it really does fit the story. We ARE water and, like water, we can survive the craziest storms and emerge from these experiences just as strong, but changed from where we've been. Water plays a strong thematic role in this book, from the flood that Annie survives as a child, to the moments of calm that Orion experiences on the beach. There's a quote towards the end that speaks about water taking the path of least resistance, and I think this also pertains to our human nature to take the road that's easiest. We don't always choose the difficulties that block our path but, like water, it can be our choice as to whether we crash against them, or flow around them peacefully.
All of Lamb's other books have a spot on my favourites shelf, and We Are Water will definitely be taking a place on that shelf as well. As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, this is not a light, fluffy novel, as it deals with some very intense themes, but I absolutely adored the way that the story unfolded.
Note: I received an e-galley of this book from Edelweiss. The fact that I received this book for review did not influence my opinion of this book in any way.