Regardless of whether or not the reader likes the story or the subject matter of this book, from the first page to the last, the reader will appreciate Lamb’s way with words. It is remarkably easy to read, and the tale unfolds seamlessly as each character is brought to life and ultimately reconciled with the extraordinary conflicts placed before them. Each chapter features a particular character's point of view and thoughts and is, thus, sometimes repetitive as the characters interact. It will not be easy to put the book down because there are so many open ends longing to be closed, and even when the final page is turned, their will be some unanswered questions and unresolved issues, because by their nature, they remain insoluble.
The author does a masterful job of bringing all the issues confronted in the book to a stunning and optimistic conclusion, rather than a depressing traumatic end. All of the characters introduced, major and minor, are woven into the story to become complete, indispensable parts of the whole. Although it is a bit contrived in its construction, in the way all of the characters coincidentally converge, in the end, the story is still very compelling. There were so many ideas raised which required additional thought; atheism, theism, heterosexuality, homosexuality, suicide, murder, racism---overt and subtle, anger, violence, education, military service, secrets, ghosts and hauntings, single motherhood, the power of prayer, floods, drowning, physical and sexual abuse, pedophilia, tattoos, handicaps, alcoholism, politics---liberal and conservative, tragedies, traumas, the meaning of love in all kinds of relationships, and the experience of unexpected joy, were all important parts of the narrative.
The story is about Annie O’Day and Orion Oh and the choices each makes to handle the difficult challenges thrown at them. Annie spent most of her life in foster homes shortly after her mother and sister died in a flash flood and her father subsequently became an alcoholic. She is an untrained, but successful, artist. The traumatic events of her childhood shaped her adult life.
Orion’s father abandoned his unwed mother, and she raised him alone. He is a Doctor of Psychology, works in academia and is educated and sophisticated in contrast to Annie who exhibits an extraordinary innocence and naïveté in certain circumstances, due to a lack of formal education and experience. He loves introducing her to a broader worldview and giving her a new perspective on life.
They marry and have three children, but after almost three decades, Annie discovers that she would rather pursue an art career and be married to a woman. Orion’s home and work environment are collapsing around him, the children are off in different unfulfilled directions and he is coming apart. Annie and Orion’s backgrounds contained secrets that subtly altered their lives as they matured and also affected the lives of those they touched. Eventually, they will both have to question their past and begin to wonder if they were not responsible, justly or unjustly, for the troubles that befell themselves and their families.
The Ohs purchased a family home in Connecticut. At one time, the well on their property was implicated in the death of an untrained black artist, Josephus Jones. It was declared an accident but many thought it was a racially motivated murder. A bit too coincidentally, the man who discovered the talent of Jones, also discovered the talented Annie Oh. The Oh’s new home is also located not very far from the area of Annie’s childhood and the place where the dam broke that took the lives of her mother and little sister. It is also close to the home she shared with her dad, her brother and her young cousin who molested her, a child who had also been abused.
There are several major themes in the novel that connected with me: sexual behavior, both inappropriate and appropriate, racism, socially and in the work place, anger management and self control, abuse leading to emotional and mental illness, escapism and excessive drinking.
The title of the book is very significant as are the unusual works of art created by Annie. The themes represent unspoken anger and, in some cases, reconciliation. Water is a major theme, as are the ties that bind. This is a book that cries out for book clubs to read and discuss because the events leading to the choices that the characters made are varied and, more often than not, very controversial. When it concluded, I felt that the book highlighted a very positive theme of acceptance and tolerance in all things.