Annie and Orion Oh had been married for twenty-seven years, with three grown children, when Annie abruptly left him for Viveca, her Manhattan art dealer.
Stunned and unable to process these events, Orion’s life unravels in unexpected ways.
And despite what was seemingly a happy home life for the children, Andrew and Ariane—twins—and the youngest, Marissa, they, too, have issues that cloud their lives. Andrew struggles with anger outbursts; Ariane has food issues; and Marissa is drinking heavily much of the time.
In a story that wends its way back and forth between the past and the present, we slowly learn some of Annie’s history, beginning with a tragic flood in 1963, in Three Rivers, Connecticut, that took the life of her mother and baby sister, and led to the destruction of the remaining family. Annie’s story includes the total loss of her remaining family when she was placed in foster care due to her father’s alcoholism.
Annie and Orion met by accident in a way that seemed totally coincidental, but which illustrated how often such moments play a role in such things. And after their marriage, when they had ended up back in Three Rivers, in a lovely home that once belonged to a family named Skloot, these events depict once again the role of serendipity in our lives.
What secrets contributed to Annie’s unhappy childhood and the demons that still lie just beneath the surface? What role did those events play in the volatile and unhappy adulthood that now plagues her? And how does the art created by a Josephus Jones, a black man who worked for the Skloot family and who died mysteriously, figure into the art scene in the present?
We Are Water: A Novel is narrated by different characters, and some are more compelling than others. I particularly enjoyed Orion’s story, with its openness and vulnerability. Annie’s secrets were revealed in bits and pieces, and some of them came from another narrator, cousin Kent.
Viveca did not have her own narrative voice, and I wondered about this. However, she seemed like the most peripheral character, a user and a manipulator, who was superficial and unlikeable. Later, she revealed a compassionate side.
While I enjoyed much of this tale, it was lengthy and bogged down with narrative that seemed extraneous. For example, Kent’s perspective did not really contribute much to the overall story; much of what we learn about him from his viewpoint was revealed in Annie’s narrative. However, his rationalizations and distortions of events did add something to the overall picture.
The prologue did not seem to advance the tale, either, although it did pinpoint some additional players that lent layers to the artistic aspects.
Themes of family legacies, secrets, abuse, violence, and tragic losses threaded through the narratives, reminding us of how we connect to others in our lives, and how these connections define us—and overall, how our common quests for hope and redemption capture the essence of the human experience. Four stars.