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The Forms of Water
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The water in this book is in the form of a reservoir-not a river, not an ocean. That should warn the reader not to expect quick flowing action or "big" momentous events or epic characters. This is a quiet, slow-moving work and it deals in small eddies and ripples. The plot, such as it is, focuses on Brendan, a former monk dying of cancer who wants to see his boyhood home one more time before he dies, or at least, see what he can of it since most of it has been covered over by the reservoir which forced his mother and father (now dead, as are his brother and sister-in-law) off their land. At the start of this journey, we are introduced to the other surviving members of the clan, ranging in age from teens to middle-aged, all of whom are barely holding on to themselves, and are not doing much holding on to each other. All of them, for various reasons, undertake the same physical journey as Brendan and it gives nothing away to the reader to say they eventually all end up in the same spot.
The journeys are clearly more personal and metaphysical than geographical, as is where they end up, both when they all meet and later. Though there is nice, neat symmetry (and a bit of contrivance but since it's the only one we can give it to her) in getting all of them together, the book itself does not tie itself up anywhere near as neatly with regard to the characters or the plot. There are unintended consequences, surprising decisions (ones that surprise even those that make them), poor decisions, misunderstandings, revelations. A few of the characters are sketchy and one or two too easily drawn in broad, one-note strokes (though even these are given by the end a more full, if still cursory, interpretation) but none of the characters at any point ever acts like anything less than a real character and the family dynamics are never less than messy (in other words-also real).
What we see here are the after-effects: the after-effects of a community drowned for "progress", the after-effects of isolating oneself from family and the world entire, the after-effects of death (children brought up by grandparents when their own parents die in a car accident), of witnessing death en masse (several characters were involved in WWII) as well as intimately (one character acts as the caregiver for a dying family member), the after-effects of separation and absence. Some of it is clearly drawn for us, at other times we have to fill in the blanks, and sometimes the blanks are filled in for us but not until the end. It is a subtle work of metaphor and connections lightly but tightly drawn.
It is not a page-turner. It is slow. It is quiet. It is sad at times, funny at times, but always human, always real.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The synopsis of this book doesn't do it justice. It's really about the long term effects of the early death of parents on the following generations. Brenden is actually a secondary character, whose journey home is the wheel around which the story plays out. It's one of those books I found myself thinking about long after I finished reading it.
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on February 12, 2011
This is an engrossing book, a tale of a dysfunctional family, a dying patriarch, a lost home (in a valley which is now home for a reservoir), all blended into a journey toward resolution, understanding and forgiveness. The magic of the old homeland acts like a siren call to draw the estranged members of the family back together, and a battle of will ensues where trickery, cunning and honesty all have their part to play. Barrett's compassionate eye shows us humanity in its many guises,with its imperfections as important to character as the more positive aspects. She has an unerring ability to conjure up locations which come alive, in addition to the gradual development of character. At the still centre of the various literal and personal journeys in the book is Brendan, on his own final quest, and the story of his 'springing' from residential care, and the part he plays in the final resolution of 'who obtains what' is the centerpiece of the novel. An uplifting, thoroughly gripping tale, with a fine cast of colourful characters jockeying for position. If you enjoy this, you'll also lose yourself in the radically different, but equally engaging The Voyage of the Narwhal
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on December 31, 2011
Dr. Jeanne Shutes chose this fine book, together with four other excellent works of fiction, to explore around a theme during one of her semesters of Self Awareness through Literature--the longest running book group known (>40 years). If you or your book group/club are interested in knowing the other four works she chose for this theme or are interested in other thematic collections, you will find these listed on the blog "Personal Growth through Fiction," where her recommendations, chosen from literally hundreds she has read, are offered as a community service for book clubs/groups. All her choices are in paperback and available at Amazon or locally.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2000
The Forms of Water advances the use of metaphor into an elaborate understanding the states of life. I saw elements of the characters in myself (sometimes unsettlingly so), and I understood the meaning of various forms of water that may seem to some a remote reference, but can also draw one deeper into the significance of the story. I read it straight through, unable to stop.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This book is really about the effect of the early death of parents on the subsequent generations. Brendan is a secondary character; his journey is the wheel around which the book turns. The true protagonists of the book are the following 2 generations, whose lives are profoundly disturbed by the early deaths of Brendan's brother and sister-in-law. I kept thinking about this book long after I'd finished it.
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2 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 1999
I can't imagine anyone actually getting through this book. I had the feeling it was going nowhere a third of the way in. Generic characters dressed up to resemble something closer to life, plodding pace, pointless events (many of them spent in fast food places), dreary dialogue. It's supposed to be about a dying ex-monk who wants to go back to his old monastery (now sunk beneath a dammed lake), but why he feels compelled to make the journey, what dying and old age are like, what this man feels or knows, his history, have all eluded this writer who makes do with "sensitive" writing. This puts her in the ranks of so many deservedly unread writers of sensibility we seem to be churning out in great numbers. Andrea, my advice is to write only when you have something to say.
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0 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2003
Man, was I bummed out on this here book. It were a real downer to me. And it were real boring, too. Get real books that have some adventure and fun in them instead of relying on death and old peoples. I read this book cuz my girlfrend said it were real good and stuff like that but I am going to just tell her it was good and put it on my nightstand along with some poetry books so it looks like I am sensitive and that makes the girls hot.
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