When Wally Lamb came out of nowhere and became an Oprah sensation, no one doubted that he would have made a big splash anyway. His work is intricate, filled with emotional insight and dramatic situations that make his characters feel like they live next door to the reader but also in a world completely different from the regular one we all inhabit on a daily basis. In the story of a woman named Oh, WE ARE WATER is oh-nly stunning, a beautiful book that takes you on a journey you won’t soon forget.
Anna Oh is an artist. Her most precious and private thoughts make up the bulk of the story. Anna is a woman who is living a second act filled with things she only dreamed about during a difficult childhood. On the eve of her upcoming marriage to a stylish but cold and unemotive woman, a gallery owner who is helping Anna’s work achieve great exposure and success in the outside world, Anna decides to look back through her life. Hers is not the kind of life in which one would expect her to be entering into a committed lesbian relationship at this point.
"For anyone feeling the squeeze of modern life, Anna’s journey will resonate, helping us all look at our lives with the same expressionistic determination."
Anna came from a childhood riddled with tragedy and sadness. Her mom and sister perished in a flash flood in her hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, and her father then fell into the life of an alcoholic, mourning his loss but leaving Anna to be raised by the only conscious person in their family: a cousin named Kent, who abused her. A child of abuse himself, Kent forced Anna into a life of foster homes and lousy minimum wage occupations.
When Anna meets a man named Orion, she impresses him and soon they are married. She gives him three children, and their life seems to be a normal all-American borefest. The frustrations caused by her life now are taken out in her art, which is fierce and feisty, much like Anna Oh herself.
The point of WE ARE WATER is dual: the sheer continuance of life despite all sorts of negativity and art’s ability to force people into thinking about life in different ways. In the world in which Anna is raising her family, she encounters the history of a former resident of their homestead, an African-American artist named Josephus Jones, a primitive artist who was killed after painting a picture of a local white girl into his canvas about Adam and Eve. Jones’s artistic temperament and history inform Anna’s growing life as an artist, giving her greater strength and showing her a path to an enlightenment that motherhood and domesticity can’t really offer her.
WE ARE WATER offers layers and layers of human experience, all intertwining in the work and choices of Anna Oh, a brave and stalwart American artist who, battered by pain and heartbreak, exhibits a will to live that propels her into a future filled with bigger dreams than she could have expected. For anyone feeling the squeeze of modern life, Anna’s journey will resonate, helping us all look at our lives with the same expressionistic determination.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on October 25, 2013
We Are Water