- Paperback: 484 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (June 9, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1530461456
- ISBN-13: 978-1530461455
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,143,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Oil and Water Paperback – June 9, 2016
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"The Farmer's Son" by John Connell
"A fascinating portrait of a single sensibility, a born noticer, someone on whom nothing is lost, observing birth and death, the landscape, and his own heritage." ―Colm Tóibín, author of "Brooklyn" Learn more
Lazos (Six Sisters, 2015, etc.) mixes childhood genius, corporate corruption, and the paranormal in this science thriller.
While the oil business is a fraught enterprise, few expect any danger from that industry to follow them to American soil, much less to their own homes. The Tirabi children—Avery, Kori, Robbie, and Gil—and David “Hart” Hartos know better. Gil has a premonition that allows the kids to escape their home just before it’s burgled and bombed, while their parents are run off the road and killed. But Gil’s unusual gifts don’t end there, as his brilliant mind and connection with his father’s spirit allow him to continue work on the man’s final invention: the Thermo-Depolymerization Unit, a machine that converts any carbon-based matter into oil. Meanwhile, Hart is reeling from the deaths of his wife and unborn child and finds no relief in his engineering efforts for Akanabi Oil. Not only is his boss his late wife’s father, but a rash of oil spills only belies the real problem: oil is running out, and a global catastrophe is imminent. When Hart and Gil meet, it’s no wonder they experience a kinship and join forces to complete the TDU and unravel the mysteries of their own personal tragedies and the depths of the world of oil. It’s easy for a science thriller to get too bogged down in theory and explanations to have a real story or, conversely, to use weak technical details as a backdrop for inferior drama. Thankfully, this surprising novel deftly avoids both pitfalls. The science is compelling and balances supporting the narrative with providing relevant real-world context while the tale possesses a depth of emotion rarely seen in this genre. The two sides actually support each other. The realities of a coming oil crisis give both characters and readers something to fear, and touches like the medical and forensic perspective on Hart’s wife’s death manage to be haunting and affecting, not just clinical. Finally, the characters are a genuine delight, all with their own voices and relationships—an especially impressive feat with four children ranging from age 11 to young adulthood.
An insightful, emotional, and deeply relevant novel about an oil industry conspiracy.
Review Posted Online,
About the Author
Pam Lazos' passions run deep and wide, but they are mainly her family, writing, and the environment. She is the author of Six Sisters, a collection of novellas; creator of the literary and eco blog www.greenlifebluewater.wordpress.com; on the Board of Advisors for the wH2O Journal, the Journal of Gender and Water (University of Pennsylvania); a former correspondent for her local newspaper (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal); a literary magazine contributor (Rapportage); an editor and ghostwriter; the author of a children's book (Into the Land of the Loud); and, because it's cool, a beekeeper's apprentice. She practices laughter daily.
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Oil and Water is also heart pounding and funny. Lazos has a terrific ability to make your heart race and in many scenes we barely stop to breathe as her characters are challenged by a variety of evil people and impossible situations. She shares her detailed knowledge of things like offshore oil platforms, environmental cleanups, and other environmental conditions, even how to clean a bird that has been oiled. These technical details make the book quite interesting and show that she is more than a casual writer trying her hand at an environmental thriller.
The story shifts between suburban Philadelphia, where the family lives, to Houston Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico, to Iraq. We see, smell, and taste all of these places. Lazos has a gift for description and we take a deep literary dive into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, Iraq, even a landfill. Lazos provides an invaluable service by being both entertaining and dispensing important knowledge. She makes us think about both the need for oil and it’s huge cost. She brings these issues down to a very personal, even 10-year-olds, level.
I’m looking forward to more works by Pam Lazos similar to Oil and Water.
I think most readers will learn something new from reading this book, whether it is about single-hulled oil tankers, epilepsy, political activism, or wildlife rescue. The research is extensive and serves the story well, and the characters are complex and appealing. The descriptions of the characters' deaths could be breathtaking in their quiet horror, or in their spectacular flaming out. And I very much enjoyed very much the day-to-day interactions between the Tirabi kids for their own sakes. Though they were portrayed as genius eccentrics, they also came across as a realistically flawed family, barely holding it together after their parents’ car crash.
I am also very interested in green technologies, so I was intrigued by, but also skeptical of, the idea for the Thermo-Depolymerization Unit, the invention of father Marty Tirabi that converts trash into oil. A few quick google searches confirmed my suspicions, that this process is indeed possible but energy intensive, and the road to its commercialization is rocky. An MIT Technology Review article from 2003, Garbage into Oil mentions a pilot plant in Philadelphia, among others, any or all of which could have inspired the author's research. A biomass company based on thermal depolymerization, Changing World Technologies, went bankrupt in 2009 and closed its MO-based refinery. I mention these real-world examples not to quibble but to applaud the author for making what might have otherwise been a boring footnote in the back of the business pages into an interesting story.
At times my personal sensibilities found the narrative to be a little too sprawling and messy: too many characters, extra subplots, and prose darlings were left alive while the body count mounted. For example, I still don’t know what the purpose was of the chapter in which Hart saves Stu’s life. It was well written and exciting, with vivid detail and fast pacing, but Stu is not an important character to the plot and we never see him again. I also found the subplot involving Robbie in Iraq to be a bit disconnected from and tacked on to the main story. And in the climactic scene near the end of the book in which many loose ends are tied up, I found myself thinking that the villain should really have read and taken to heart the evil overlord list, (particularly #7), because he just keeps talking, shooting people, and missing, until . . . YOW.
In a recent “Brain Pickings” column, Maria Popova quotes the great SF master Ursula LeGuin, saying that the best storytelling offers "an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is that inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned."
PJ Lazos writes in that honorable tradition of speculative fiction here, powerfully using her own imagination to expand the scope of the possible. There is easily enough material here for more than one novel. I hope there’s a sequel.
P.J. Lazos’ Oil and Water, an environmental thriller, is about big oil. If you’re not a fan of big oil, this book will only give you more reasons why not. Think arrogant guys smoking cigars with their feet on their desks pooh-poohing the latest ecological disaster their corporation is responsible for. There are oil spill and oil leaks, but that’s only the beginning of the environmental issues Oil and Water raises. Even Saddam Hussein makes a cameo in this story as an enemy of Mother Nature.
The novel begins with death and destruction. Four hundred and some odd pages later it is all tied together. That’s the thriller element.
I was super impressed with the author’s knowledge of oil rigs, underwater operations, spills, cleanups and rescues. It enables her to describe scenes like the near-fatal underwater leak repair in the Gulf in detail that you would think could only be provided by the divers themselves. She even nails the male banter between the divers and their above ground support.
I was even more impressed with her ability to build suspense in the way she relates this and other tales. Little thrillers within the larger story. It is one of the things that makes this long novel a quick and engaging read.
Much of the story takes place in a household run by and for teenagers, give or take a couple years on either end. (Their parents died in the aforementioned death and destruction.) That in itself makes for an interesting tale.
After reading Oil and Water, you can’t help but long for the day when we might be able to leave fossil fuels in the ground. If only there was a real family of teens and pre-teens who could build a machine to convert trash to fuel at scale.
There is sea of self-published authors these days. Many are skilled writers and storytellers. I wish I read more of them, but it’s hard to find the good ones amidst the amateurish and the flamingly self-absorbed. This is one of the good ones.