I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

unknownI’ll Take You There

by Wally Lamb

When I was asked to read and review Wally Lamb’s latest novel by TLC Book Tours, I eagerly said yes.  I’ve been a fan of Wally Lamb for many years – ever since I read She’s Come Undone, which remains one of my favorite novels. tlc-logo

I’ll Take You There centers around Felix Funicello, an aging but pretty hip film professor who runs a Monday night film club for local film buffs at an old movie theater.  One night while he’s alone at the theater he’s visited by an apparition, which turns out to be the ghost of Lois Weber, a groundbreaking female film director who has been dead for decades.  After a gossipy conversation with Felix (who strangely doesn’t freak out over being visited by a ghost, but pretty much rolls with it), Lois points him to a stack of film reels and instructs him to watch them.  The films are footage from Felix’s life.  Some of them he remains an observer, and some he actually enters and relives.  Through these films, Felix acquires insight into various women who have impacted his life through the years: his mother, his older sisters – one of whose adolescent breakdowns changed the course of the entire family – and his grown daughter.  While Felix repeatedly asks Lois why he’s been chosen for this adventure, she only says that he’s “educable,” leaving the impression that Felix is in need of sensitivity training concerning women.  This was just one unsatisfying aspect of the story, as Felix is clearly already a pretty feminist dude.  It would sort of be like the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future visiting Santa Claus instead of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Revisiting the past in order to understand the present certainly isn’t a unique premise, and neither is time travel or even ghosts.  Wally Lamb has a certain gift for understanding and writing about women, and that does come through in this novel.  However, the underlying themes of feminism and family dysfunction are treated lightly, the characters are rather cliche and one-dimensional, the conflicts too easily resolved, and the plot feels contrived.  I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it.  Nothing earth-moving, but a decent beach read.

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

41lLWwwyn9L We Are Water: A Novel
by Wally Lamb

When TLC Book Tours presented me with the opportunity to read and review Wally Lamb’s latest novel, I jumped at the chance.  His novel, She’s Come Undone, is absolutely one of my favorite novels of all time; I read it twice and adored it both times.  I also read I Know This Much is True years ago, although it stands out in my memory less so than She’s Come Undone.  In any case, I am a fan of Wally Lamb.

In We Are Water, Lamb does what he does best: presents us with a cast of characters who are each broken in their own way, and he gets inside their heads and skins so deftly that you forget it is one person – and a man – bringing these people to life.

At the heart of the story is Annie Oh, a middle-aged woman who has made a name for herself in the art world with her edgy, angry art.  After twenty-seven years of marriage to Orion, and raising three children, Annie falls in love with the well-to-do, sophisticated art dealer who was instrumental in Annie’s success as an artist.  She has left her husband and is now planning to marry the art dealer – a woman.  Same-sex marriage has recently been legalized in Connecticut, but Annie’s impending marriage elicits a storm of emotional responses – not the least from Annie herself, who has spent a lifetime stuffing down a past that has threatened to destroy her, and which she is finding she can no longer outrun.

Told from the alternating points of view of Annie, her ex-husband Orion, each of their three grown children, and a few supporting characters, this is a story of utter, gut-wrenching pain, how we carry old wounds around with us, and ultimately, how the human heart and spirit can survive the very worst that life can deliver.  There is some very difficult, graphic subject matter in this story – it’s not for the fainthearted, and if you’re looking for a light read, this isn’t it.  But if you’re looking for a story with characters so real that you end up feeling like they’re friends, if you’re looking for a story that takes you to dark places, breaks your heart, and ultimately lifts you up, read this book.