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WE ARE WATER by Wally Lamb


by Wally Lamb

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-194102-3
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

A searching novel of contemporary manners—and long-buried secrets—by seasoned storyteller Lamb (Wishin' and Hopin', 2009, etc.).

Lamb’s latest opens almost as a police procedural, its point of view that of one Gualtiero Agnello (hint: agnello means “lamb” in Italian), rife with racial and sexual overtones. Fast-forward five decades, and it’s a different world, the POV now taken by an artist named Annie Oh, sharp-eyed and smart, who is attending to details of her upcoming nuptials to her partner and agent, Viveca, who has chosen a wedding dress with a name, Gaia. Notes Annie, reflecting on the Greek myth underlying the name, “[c]haos, incest, monsters, warring siblings: it’s a strange name for a wedding dress.” That thought foreshadows much of Lamb’s theme, which inhabits the still-waters-run-deep school of narrative: Annie has attained some renown, is apparently adjusted to divorce from her husband, a clinical psychologist named Orion (Greek myth again, though he’s Chinese) Oh, and is apparently bound for a later life of happiness. Ah, but then reality intrudes in various forms, from Viveca’s request for a prenup to the long-suppressed past, in which natural disaster meets familial dysfunction. The story is elaborate and unpredictable, and the use of multiple narrators is wise, considering that there are a few Rashomon moments in this leisurely unfolding narrative. The characters are at once sympathetic and flawed and mostly, by the end, self-aware (Orion on Annie: “I’d just let her float away. But at the time, I couldn’t admit that. It was easier to think of myself as Viveca’s victim than to cop to my own culpability”).  

We all know that life is tangled and messy. Still, in reminding readers of this fact, Lamb turns in a satisfyingly grown-up story, elegantly written.