The novel's opening has an almost lighthearted quality. Orion's invited to the wedding, Annie's fretting over the bridal gowns and Viveca thinks it would be lovely to be married in Orion's back yard. One can almost imagine this being the perfect plot for a politically correct 21st-century romantic comedy of manners … In his singularly perceptive voice, Lamb immerses his characters and the novel's readers in powerful moments of hope and redemption and shocking descriptions of violence and abuse. The novel's focus on the creative process flows through an equally fascinating subplot that deals with the life and suspicious death of an African-American artist whose works inspired Annie's career.
Lamb skillfully mines the darting, banal, petty, random and innermost thoughts of artist Annie Oh, her ex-husband Orion, their children and a few secondary characters. He also gets inside the head of a child molester, to squirming effect – it's not a head you really want to inhabit … The Ohs are complicated and compelling figures. Annie thinks she is protecting her family by not revealing the pain of her past, but hidden truths only beget more secrets and sorrow … Art's power to provoke is a theme that wends its way through We Are Water.
The signifiers start early in We Are Water, which is told in a series of alternating first-person narratives. Annie, an experimental artist, is at the center of them all, however, and her history, as well as her purported gift, drives the plot … We Are Water has all the touchstones of a potboiler: multigenerational family saga, high finance, abuse, creativity, sex, and even love.
We Are Water is a slog. At times, reading it feels like walking around the shallow end of a swimming pool wearing tennis shoes: unnecessarily arduous and slowgoing … Elsewhere, the intricate narrative thrashes about in the deep end, desperately groping around in far too many subjects: gay marriage, divorce, racism, alcoholism, artistic expression, domestic violence, parenting, class conflict, fundamentalist Christianity, murder and a devastating flood — to name a few … The shifting points of view work with varying degrees of success, and it's often difficult to care for any of these characters.
The story comes to us as a series of soliloquies delivered — chapter by chapter — by the distressed members of the Oh family. The patriarch is Orion Oh, an affable psychologist descended from a Chinese grandfather with ‘inscrutable eyes.’ Orion has endured a rough year: He’s been forced into early retirement by a sexual harassment claim, and his wife has left him for a woman … Eventually, we hear soliloquies from the Ohs’ three unhappy adult children, a couple of neighbors and even Annie’s old sexual abuser. Together they present an exhaustive inventory of woe … The problem with We Are Water, though, isn’t an excess of trauma, it’s a dearth of immediacy and subtlety. The present-day action of the novel is overwhelmed by recollections.
This book is a story about questions and the people who always ask them as well as the people who arrogantly think they know all the answers. The story takes place over two decades and involves residents of a lovely New England property … The book assaults the reader with violence, anger and hate, yet the title evokes a sense of peace and tranquility. Race, religion, sexuality, poverty, wealth, education, values, trust and lies all clash like stormy waves against a rocky coast. How does one find peace? How does a family learn to function in the light of all of these differences? What does it mean to define ourselves as we are water?
True to his talents, Lamb finds a way to incorporate in other diverse elements into We Are Water – a natural disaster, racial injustice, American life during the Obama years, even a bit of a ghost story – to add heft and depth to this painfully honest, character-driven family drama … Lamb allows each of the Ohs to weigh in on the past and present, and their voices are distinct and true.
Lamb's fifth novel takes on race, class, sexuality, and art, sometimes clumsily, yet the complex plot is captivating … Lamb excels at delivering unexpected blows to his characters, ratcheting up the suspense to the final page.
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 … 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.