We Are Water (Hardcover)
Harper, 9780061941023, 564pp.
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
November 2013 Indie Next List
— Lynn Beeson, Loganberry Books, Shaker Hts, OH
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We Are Water is a disquieting and ultimately uplifting novel about a marriage, a family, and human resilience in the face of tragedy, from Wally Lamb, the New York Times bestselling author of The Hour I First Believed and I Know This Much Is True.
After 27 years of marriage and three children, Anna Oh--wife, mother, outsider artist--has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her success. They plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut. But the wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's Box of toxic secrets--dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.
We Are Water is a layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs--nonconformist, Anna; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest. It is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.
With humor and compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience and the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Describe Anna and Orion Oh and their relationship. What factors drew them together and what drove them apart? What were your first impressions of each character? Did you see the characters in the same light by the novel's end? Think about their names. Are they fitting for these characters? What other elements like this did you notice throughout the novel?
- Talk about the Oh children. How do each of them relate to their parents? Were Anna and Orion good parents? What makes a good parent? Are they equally culpable for their impact on their children? How much of our lives are shaped by our families, and how much by our own choices? Choose a character or two from the Oh family and use examples from the book to support your thoughts.
- The story begins by talking about the artist Josephus Jones. What role does he play in the story and the Ohs' lives? He is called a narrative painter in the story. Explain that term, what it signifies for you.
- Family, tragedy, art, violence, secrets, love, and transformation are the themes at the heart of We Are Water. By keeping things to ourselves and by sharing them inappropriately, are we doomed to keep repeating the mistakes of the past? How are Anna's secrets both destructive and productive? What about the secrets the rest of the family keeps?
- What is the attraction between Anna and Viveca? What does Viveca offer Anna that Orion cannot? What are your impressions of Viveca?
- As the story unfolds we learn about Anna as a mother and her relationship with Andrew, her only son. Why does she treat him the way that she does? Is she truly aware of her behavior? Why don't the children tell their father the truth about their mother? Were they protecting her?
- Another supporting yet very important character in the novel is Kent. Share your thoughts about him. Does knowing his backstory affect your view? Do we in our hypercritical society lose sight of the fact that perpetrators are often victims themselves? What was Kent hoping for when he went to visit Anna on her wedding day?
- Think about Orion. His profession is helping people, watching for signs, recognizing pain and rescuing his patients. How could he so spectacularly miss Anna's suppressed emotions and those of his children? Was he too busy tending to others to notice his own family's dysfunction? Could he have truly seen it or by being a part of this family was he too close?
- Discuss Anna's art. Does it sound appealing to you? Would she have her art without her pain? How is she like Josephus Jones—what connects them?
- After Anna shares her terrible secret with Andrew, he makes a crucial choice. What do you think of his actions? Was he morally justified? Is it good that he told his father about what happened? Would he feel better or worse if he confessed?
- Discuss the significance of the title, We Are Water. How many meanings does it have? How does it connect to the final scene in the book?
- How do each of the Ohs come to terms with who they are? Would you say that they—and the novel itself—have a happy ending?
- Late in the novel, Orion mentions reading an article in the New York Times about scientists who studied the effects of reading fiction on the human brain. They found that reading fiction stimulates the brain in the same way that experiences in real life do. Why do you read fiction? Are novels and stories important, and if so, why? Does this experience match your own?
- What did you take away from reading We Are Water? If you've read Wally Lamb's other books, how does its compare thematically?