12 November 2013

We Are Water, Wally Lamb

Gaps between the publication of Wally Lamb's novels range from five years to ten, a significant departure from today's usual churning process. A lesser writer would risk their readership drifting away but in WL's case the wait only heightens expectation.
As with his four previous full novels, emphasis is heavily on relationships, internal thought processes and consequences. Lamb really draws you inside the mind of his protagonist(s), revealing, often in flashback, the circumstances which shaped the present day characters. In this novel there are at least six first person narrators, each delivering accounts of their past and how it interlaced with that of their parents, siblings and partners. The result is a multi-layered and intricate portrait of a family.
The initial conflict centres around the decision by Annie, an artist, to leave her twenty-seven year marriage and set up home with Viveca, a Manhattan art dealer. What follows is an account of the week leading up to Annie's remarriage told through the voices of herself, her former husband, their three children, a childhood cousin of Annie's and a couple of minor players.
Reaction to Annie's new future prompts conversations and internal reflections that lift the lid on some truly ghastly secrets, making, on a couple of occasions, for very uncomfortable reading. No one it seems is guilt free. As the novel edges towards the wedding day, the revelations force family members to confront themselves and each other, with dramatic consequences. There are sideswipes at modern America, Politics and Race but these are suppressed, serving as a backdrop, and don't detract from the main account.
There is no rush here. Wally Lamb takes time to savour characters and events, illuminating them with authentic dialogue and sometimes a credible, tumbling stream of consciousness. Don't be deceived by the nonchalance of some encounters, as subtle clues to help piece together this intricate portrait abound. It all distills to a story about how we perceive ourselves and our family; how we handle (or bury) extreme difficulties; and ultimately about the indomitable strength of the human spirit.

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