Welcome to summer reading, where the sun gets in your eyes and the sand gets in your pages. I just devoured Wally Lamb’s latest. He never disappoints. Even better, when I met him some years ago (must have been about 15? 20? years ago) he stopped signing books, stood up, announced to the entire line, this was my kindergarden teacher, Ms. ______ and he lauded her, hugged her, and basically made the entire line waiting for autographs cry. Good guy, that Wally. Anyway, this book was the perfect one to start my summer, since I’m up on Cape Cod visiting my parents, and this book partially takes place in Cape Cod, so the landmarks were familiar. I love to read books about places I am visited or places I’ve been.
So the book takes a heteroglossic approach–multiple narratives telling the story. Annie Oh, the middle-aged, divorced artist, is about to marry her art dealer, Viveca, and she thinks about her past as she moves toward her future. Orion Oh, her ex-husband also considers their past together as he works through his more immediate issues and his unplanned exit from the field of psychiatry. We even hear from their three children: Marissa, an actress, her twin Andrew, a military man who has found religion, and Ariane, who manages a soup-kitchen. While much of the narrative focuses on the Oh family, there is also an additional thread of a story that links to them–the story of another outsider artist, Josephus Jones, an artist who used to live in the back of their property when it belonged to the wealthy Skloots.
This book examines issues of race, gender, and violence while it also considers families, secrets, and forgiveness. The story also explores the repercussions of losing a loved one in a natural disaster. Lamb did some research about the big flood in Norwich, Connecticut in 1963 (although he creates a fictional town for the flood to occur in for the book) and includes the flood as a significant event in Annie’s young life. While at times the story felt a little predictable, I enjoyed the way Lamb tied everything together and ultimately closed with a satisfying ending. I remember reading his book about Columbine, The Hour I First Believed and thinking the same thing about the ending–I liked that it ended with hope. So if you want a story about families with complicated pasts that ultimately ends in a positive way, this is the book for you. I’ll also say, once I had a large chunk of time to sit down and read, I couldn’t put it down–the best kind of book to start the summer.