” But anyway, in the weeks after I confronted Annie, we made our peace. I apologized for the things I’d said, she for the things she’d done and hadn’t done—the secrets she’d kept. I hadn’t scared her away after all. And so she had kept returning to the home we had shared so that she could help me. It was ironic, really. Annie had somehow become a better, more honest and forgiving wife then when we were married. So maybe that’s what love means. Having the capacity to forgive the one who wronged, no matter how deep the hurt was. ” (Part V, Ch.27, p.532-533)
We often say in life you lose some and you win some. As for Orion and Annie Oh, after 27 years of marriage, when Annie, an outsider artist who decides to marry her art dealer—a woman, they seem to be in a lose-lose situation. The middle-age mother/wife ‘s wedding announcement shakes her family to its core. Orion feels unmoored. He has not realized the extent to which agitation and childhood trauma fuel Annie’s art. But as Lamb slowly reveals the emotional history and the troubled past, the story goes back in time to a flood that lays waste to both a town and the family who is central to the plot. The book delves deeper by sharing flashbacks and narratives of friends and neighbors.
My eyes fill with tears. I turn and look out the window so that Minnie won’t see. All she did was make an empty threat, but I actually left them there and drove off . . . What kind of a mother . . . A terrible one, that’s what kind I was. A mother who was angry and resentful and so focused on her art that . . . They deserved someone better—someone as patient and even-keeled as their father. I probably shouldn’t even have had kids. (Part IV, Ch.20, p.395)
We Are Water is an intrcate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection. Told in alternating voices of the Ohs—the wife-turned-lesbian Annie; the psychologist ex-husband Orion; the do-gooder daughter Ariane who induces pregnancy by insemination; the TV personality daughter Marissa; and the conservative soldier Andrew—Lamb deftly probes the dynamics and the changing meaning of family. Annie’s impending marriage to Viveca only provokes the innermost secrets each has harbored and forces them to cope with the dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of their lives.
I just never expected that she’d bail on me. But it’s not all on her. I neglected her, took her for granted. She had a night to seek out her own happiness. But with a woman? It’s unmoored me, you know? All of it. The divorce, the accusation, quitting my job. It’s like I’m adrift out there. (Part III, Ch.18, p.356)
Enmeshed in the family drama are themes universal to American literature: race, class, same-sex marriage, immigrants, and bipartisan politics. Lamb never foists his views of these issues upon reader with his authorial intrusion. They rather manifest in the most subtle way in conversations. The result is a compulsively readable novel that captures the essence of human experience—especially how traumatized childhood, if unresolved and allowed to fester, finds its way into marriage and parenthood. We Are Water explores explores the resiliency and fluidity of humanity, through tragedy of loss. As the Oh family comes to terms with the long-buried secrets that transform their lives, they also learn the new meaning of family.
564 pp. Harper Collins. Advanced Reader Copy/Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]