Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"We Are Water": A rambling tale with too much tragedy

Darn you, Wally Lamb.

I'm just so disappointed that I didn't like this book that I actually feel angry with Wally Lamb.

I read "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb all the way back during my undergraduate classes at the University of Minnesota.  My then boyfriend, Eric, was just starting his first real job as an academic recruiter for the University.  We took a road trip to one of his recruiting conferences in the late summer, and while he was walking the floor touting how awesome the UofM was, I was captured by Wally Lamb's deft 1st persona narrative depiction of Dolores Price and her struggle with life as an overweight teen and woman.  I spent that weekend poolside reading at a fast pace, just wanting to keep going. Lamb's ability to capture the voice of a tragic and comical heroine, left me in awe of his writing talent.  His next effort, "I Know This Much Is True" didn't leave me as breathless, but I still enjoyed it.  It's been awhile since I've read Lamb, but when I saw this book int he library with it's beautiful title and haunting blue cover, I couldn't wait to sink in.

Even after the first chapter, I knew that "We Are Water" wasn't going to rock my world.  The novel centers on the lives of the Oh family, a tragically flawed and messed up bunch of people.  Annie Oh works as an artist selling her angry art installations to famous celebrities like Lady Gaga.  Annie recently ended her 27 year marriage to husband, Orion, to wed her rich, socialite art promoter, Vivica.  Orion suffers from this news and while reeling from the loss of his wife, he also loses his career as a college counselor amidst sexual harassment allegations.  Annie and Orion's three children also suffer from this news, but each deal with issues of their own including explosive anger, disillusionment, prostitution, and loneliness.

Throughout this stream of consciousness novel, the narrator changes with each chapter, but the rambling diatribe seems to be consistent among each of the characters.  They all divulge all of their secrets in waves and waves of confessionals.  From the tormented molester of Annie's youth, to the racist mom of Josephus Jone's "girlfriend," to the seemingly virtuous Ari, all the characters sound almost identical.

I found the endless tragedies in this book a bit much.  Did Orion really need to be wheel chair bound? Did Andrew need to be tormented indefinitely due to his mother's physical abuse? Too much is too much.  I thought that about the narration, too.  There was no subtlety in this book.  Every story line goes over the top with too much (in the case of Kent's storyline, way too much).  It wasn't until the very end of the book while Andrew and his dad have heart to heart talks about life as they walk along the beach, that I saw glimmers of the genius of Wally Lamb's life insights, but by that time it was too late to save the entire book of stream of consciousness ramblings (and what's with the ...... all over the place, Mr. Lamb?).

I loved the link to the title (which also comes close to the end) that “We are like water, aren’t we? We can be fluid, flexible when we have to be. But strong and destructive, too.” And something else, I think to myself. Like water, we mostly follow the path of least resistance.” 

I may have loved "She's Come Undone" but this book is one that I would recommend leaving on the shelf if you see it on the new fiction section of the library, especially if you are looking for a book to capture you poolside during the last remaining days of the summer season.  

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