Review – We Are Water

Title: We are Water

Author: Wally Lamb

we are water

Published 2013 by Harper

561 pages

Reviewed by Holly

I am not sure how to put into words my adoration for Wally Lamb, especially since, if I think about it, I would not recommend everything he’s ever written. I will say that everything of his that I have read has stuck with me in some ways, like it or not. We Are Water is definitely on the like-it side.

We Are Water is about a family in transition. Artist and mother Annie Oh is preparing to wed her female partner, while her ex-husband Orion and their adult children get together to reflect on this change, and on their lives as the children were growing up. The story jumps around multiple generations, including stories of Annie and Orion’s childhoods, and stories of a black artist who died in questionable circumstances in the 50s – in what later becomes the Oh family’s backyard. There is a lot going on in this book, and there is a lot of pain and suffering. Like, a lot.

What I loved though, is how all these stories weave together as the characters intersect. And I loved the details about each character that are revealed when the points of view change. (Fair warning that one of those characters is a sexual predator, and those chapters are definitely disturbing.)

What annoyed me is the dialogue in this book, which often turns into inner-monologuing. Every time the perspective changes, you are right there inside a character’s head, and he/she must reveal every thought he/she has ever thunk on a particular subject, which comes across like this:

[Mid-conversation between two characters]

– P.O.V. Character: “that reminded me of that other time that this happened and this is how it made me feel and [insert all of the trauma] and…”

[After several pages of deep thoughts, P.O.V. character must be brought back into the present conversation]

– Other character: “hey, yo, where did you just go to there? Earth-to-______.”

It’s like every conversation descends into a rabbit hole of thoughts, and every person in the story is constantly taken 100% out of the present. In real life, don’t people manage to simultaneously talk and think at the same time – without having to have someone snap their fingers to bring them back? The overuse of drifting-off-into-thought just doesn’t sit very well.

I also did not buy some of the actual dialogue between characters, particularly between Orion and his two daughters. There was a serious lack of boundaries on what was shared between father and daughters.

I swear though, dialogue problems aside, I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad I read it.

But, if you just read one Wally Lamb book, read I Know this Much is True.

As for his others, I found The Hour I First Believed profoundly depressing and I can’t bring myself to say I enjoyed it (and I realize that someone else might very well say the same thing about We Are Water). People rave about She’s Come Undone, but there is a scene with a poem and a glove and a funeral that creeps me out, so I don’t want to read that one again either.

Wally Lamb has also taught writing in a women’s prison and edited a couple volumes of the prisoners’ work, which is something I might add to my reading list since I am currently caught up in finishing Season 2 of Orange is the New Black.


  1. I so know what you mean about Wally Lamb. His books depress me in ways no other author’s work does (with the possible exception of Lionel Shriver) but I still like them. I know This Much Is True is an incredible book but I think my “favourite” (because I’m not sure that that word totally applies to his work) is The Hour I First Believed. I spent a lot of time while reading that one going “how is this related, what is happening, why are we here” and in the end…just wow. I don’t know if I can bring myself to read She’s Come Undone but I think I will give We Are Water a try.

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