5 Pretzels and at least a dozen trigger warnings.
We Are Water by Wally Lamb is the story of a family. A family that, like a lot of families, have deep seeded issues that they have repressed for years hoping to squash them like a bug. And it totally works! No, no it doesn’t. Because it never does.
So, here’s the basic plot:
Annie and Orion have been married for twenty-seven years. They have three grown children; Andrew and Ariane who are twins, and Marissa, the baby of the family. Annie is an artist who has very recently, thanks to the help of a gallery owner, come in to a little bit of fame. She has left Orion for said gallery owner, Viveca. Their upcoming wedding is bringing out some deep feelings for a lot of our characters.
Much like Wally Lamb’s other brilliant books, We Are Water is not so much about what happens, but rather about how the characters in the book react to what happens. Will they, like water, adapt and fill the shape they’re being forced into? Or will they, like water, become dangerous? This book is classic Wally Lamb in that it will absolutely wreck you while also being one of the most beautiful books you’ve ever read. Wally Lamb is uniquely talented in that way.
Okay, now for the serious stuff.
**TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT/CHILD MOLESTATION/CHILD ABUSE**
^See what I mean about wrecking you? Seriously, this book is trigger heavy, so please, if you do read it, proceed with caution and take care of yourself. And also keep in mind that someone who has had literally no trauma in their life (me) had to put this book down many, many times. IT IS OKAY TO NOT FINISH A BOOK IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL THINGS OR ADDRESS THINGS YOU DON’T WANT TO FEEL OR ADDRESS. Find a different book. Might I suggest ours? It will make you feel nothing but sheer delight.
Let’s begin with Annie. I feel like she really tried to make it work with Orion and, through her art, was trying to express how she was feeling. You see, he worked outside the home, often late into the evening, leaving her home with three children. I also get the sense that Annie didn’t want to be a mother in the first place. Her mother died when she was very young, leaving her with her dad, brother, and an older male cousin. And when mom died, things went bad for Annie. Her cousin, Kent, began molesting her. Wally Lamb doesn’t reveal this all at once. We learn little by little that Annie was not a great mother, particularly to Andrew. She was downright abusive to him. The children, as they often do, lied to Orion to protect her. Abuse is a vicious, terrible cycle. Because of Kent, Annie was now lashing out at her only male child.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, Part Four happens and we get chapters from Kent’s perspective. See, I would rather not have his POV because it allows me to think of his as a monster who ruined Annie’s, and by extension, her children’s lives. But no, Wally won’t let that happen. You see, we get background on Kent’s childhood. He was molested by a female teenage babysitter. To get him to cooperate, she threatened to kill his pet. So, she was a real piece of work. Kent begged his mother to not go back, but she was a single mother who didn’t think she had a choice. I don’t have children, but this is why I think it’s important to talk to them about their bodies, using the actual, correct terms for things, so they know what to say if something horrible is happening to them. Instead of “I don’t want to go”, Kent could have told his mom the truth and everything would have turned out differently for a lot of people. So, back to Kent, by revealing is backstory, you are forced to see him as a person who did monstrous things rather than a humanoid who lives in a cave.
The plot to this story is complex, with a lot of characters, but in typical Wally Lamb fashion, they all meet exactly where they should and you’re left with a beautiful, but incredibly difficult book.
Will I ever recommend this book to anyone? Probably not. I am glad I read it? Yes. Absolutely.
Next week won’t be so damn bleak.