Water, water everywhere – “We are Water” and “Beach Music”

January 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm Leave a comment

IMGP0432By some very odd twist of fate I read “Beach Music” by Pat Conroy and “We are Water” by Wally Lamb one after another.  They are both fairly long (500+pages) books but more importantly they are extremely tough but meaningful examinations of our lives with our families and how they torment us, break us and heal us.

I have been thinking a lot about Pat Conroy lately, I think because he just published a memoir. I read two of his books in high school or early college (my feeble mind is not as accurate anymore) but I don’t think I really understood the depth of his writing.  “Beach Music” is extremely well written. Conroy’s main character Jack was born and raised in a small South Carolina town.  He marries the girl next door, quite literally, and they have a child. But his wife struggles with mental illness and ends her life by jumping from a bridge.  In response, Jack has a nervous breakdown, recovers, packs his very young daughter up and moves to Rome cutting off all ties to family and friends. It is four years later when Jack receives a call from one of his brothers that their mother is dying from cancer.  So Jack, who has left all his painful memories in South Carolina, has to return home to face all kinds of things he has been avoiding.

In Conroy’s usual playbook style, Jack’s story is not simple.  The things that led to his wife’s suicide are plentiful and have many players.  There are deep betrayals and harrowing stories to tell. And then there is Jack’s mother – she carries secrets that she must face now that she is dying – these secrets become a part of Jack’s story as well. This book is so full of different stories it truly could have been two novels or even a compilation of short stories. But what I like about that is in reality our lives are just that complicated. I am the combination of my father’s life, my mother’s life, my siblings, the friends I have had, the choices I have made. There are lot of stories that touch my life- some terribly boring but still there they are.  This novel is the perfect example of that.  I will say I can’t quite wrap my head around the point of some of the stories. I get that Conroy is telling us that home is where the heart is – like sea turtles we will always come back home even if home is a tough place to be, etc.  But I think I might need more time to think about the book because I think I may have missed something.

Lamb’s “We are Water” is equally complex, though has a bit of a more narrow focus.  Orion and Annie were married for 27 years with three grown children when Annie dropped the news that she was leaving him for a woman.  That woman happens to be Viveca, Annie’s art dealer – she is the one who took Annie’s art and made her a success.  What follows is an interesting narrative of each person’s, in Annie’s family, reaction to her impending marriage to Viveca. It is not quite that simple and the narrative does include some other voices but that is the essence of it. Annie has a lot of secrets and pieces of her life that she has not shared with anyone.  As her wedding day approaches it becomes clear that keeping these secrets is no longer possible and the fall-out changes the dynamics of her family forever.

SPOILER ALERT – In order to really share my thoughts about this book I have to say  a large part of it focuses on the fact that Annie was molested by her cousin. It started when she was five years old and continued for 2 years.  Though you find this out early on, it still is something you have to piece together, at least until her cousin because the narrator.  I found this book extremely hard to read.  It was disturbing and very real.  I struggle a bit with this topic because I think is it overdone. There are very few modern books I read anymore that don’t have a character who has been raped or molested. But that said, Lamb takes a hard look at incest and the way he tells the story through Annie’s brokenness but also through her cousin’s point of view makes it more meaningful and not just fodder to gain reader empathy.  As an aside, I really enjoyed all of Wally Lamb’s other books more than this one.

While it is Winter and long books are likely fitting, I think I am on to something short and sweet. And maybe not with any water symbolism.  I can only handle so many “ripples causing ripples” analogies in one month.

Other reviews to check out: 

From Maurice on Books 

From Turn the Page

From thevoiceofoma

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Entry filed under: January 2014 reads. Tags: , , , , .

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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