The Forms of Water

( 1 )

Overview

At the age of eighty, Brendan Auberon—formerly of the Order of Our Lady of the Valley, now confined to a nursing home—has one last wish: to see his 200 acres overlooking what used to be Paradise Valley, before the villages were drowned to provide water for the city of Boston. Now, Brendan’s memories drift beneath the surface of the Stillwater Reservoir. When Brendan dupes his nephew, Henry, into hijacking the nursing home van for the journey, what begins as a lark becomes an ...

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Overview

At the age of eighty, Brendan Auberon—formerly of the Order of Our Lady of the Valley, now confined to a nursing home—has one last wish: to see his 200 acres overlooking what used to be Paradise Valley, before the villages were drowned to provide water for the city of Boston. Now, Brendan’s memories drift beneath the surface of the Stillwater Reservoir. When Brendan dupes his nephew, Henry, into hijacking the nursing home van for the journey, what begins as a lark becomes an adventure infinitely more complex.

At the age of 80, Brendan Auberon has one wish: to see his 200 acres of wooded ridge overlooking what was Paradise Valley before the villages were drowned to provide water for Boston. When he tricks his nephew into highjacking the nursing home van and taking him there, Brendan's family thinks he's been kidnapped.

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Editorial Reviews

San Jose Mercury News
“The writing is careful and coherent, and the characters are wonderful.”
Belles Lettres
“Moving.... Barrett's imagery is oddly memorable.... The Forms of Water is crafted with care.”
Detroit News
“Subtle and strong.... Barrett's talents shine.... Barrett not only gets the geographic terrain right, she has the emotional terrain down as well. Her writing... is insidious and fluid and as clean as a Berkshire stream. Long after the book has been shelved... you'll find yourself thinking of Brendan, a crowning achievement for any writer.”
The New York Times Book Review
“If any group of mortals knows how it feels to be expelled from paradise, it's the Auberon clan, the appealingly wretched family in Andrea Barrett's fourth novel.... Ms. Barrett nicely details the quiet agonies of people who have fallen from grace through bad luck and worse judgment, and suggests that if you can't regain paradise, you can at least make peace with its loss.”
San Francisco Chronicle Review
“Brendan is a masterful creation.”
The Washington Post
“Intelligent and elegiac.... [a] winning novel.”
Mark Childress
“Of all the writers in the present generation, I can think of no one who's better at exploring the crystalline structures of human relations than Andrea Barrett. The lady has a very powerful miscroscope. The Forms of Water is just lovely—deeply funny, deeply serious, wise.”
From the Publisher
“Barrett returns with her specialty—a story about the tangled web of a family told in prose that's spun smooth as silk.... The strength this time around lies in Barrett's fine writing and the haunting power of the water, rising to fill that reservoir. It was a real event, but like the best of fiction writers, Barrett makes it more than real.”

“Barrett combines family dissension and adventure with healthy doses of faith and optimism. The result is a satisfying analysis of family dysfunction in the spirit of Sue Miller.”

“The writing is careful and coherent, and the characters are wonderful.”

“Of all the writers in the present generation, I can think of no one who's better at exploring the crystalline structures of human relations than Andrea Barrett. The lady has a very powerful miscroscope. The Forms of Water is just lovely—deeply funny, deeply serious, wise.”

“Moving.... Barrett's imagery is oddly memorable.... The Forms of Water is crafted with care.”

“Subtle and strong.... Barrett's talents shine.... Barrett not only gets the geographic terrain right, she has the emotional terrain down as well. Her writing... is insidious and fluid and as clean as a Berkshire stream. Long after the book has been shelved... you'll find yourself thinking of Brendan, a crowning achievement for any writer.”

“If any group of mortals knows how it feels to be expelled from paradise, it's the Auberon clan, the appealingly wretched family in Andrea Barrett's fourth novel.... Ms. Barrett nicely details the quiet agonies of people who have fallen from grace through bad luck and worse judgment, and suggests that if you can't regain paradise, you can at least make peace with its loss.”

“Brendan is a masterful creation.”

“Intelligent and elegiac.... [a] winning novel.”

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A troubled family is reunited during a journey to an aging uncle's Massachusetts home. (Aug.)
Library Journal
After spending his productive years in a monastery near his childhood home, 80-year-old Brendan Auberon is now confined to a wheelchair and a nursing home, where his family pay him occasional obligatory visits. When Brendan convinces his nephew Henry to help him return to the home of his youth, now covered by a reservoir supplying water to the city of Boston, Brendan steals the nursing home van for the adventure. The trip doesn't turn out as planned, but with Brendan and Henry on the run, and various family members in pursuit, it is anything but dull; Brendan, through his last capricious act, serves as the catalyst to set errant family members on the right path again. Barrett ( The Middle Kingdom , LJ 2/1/91) combines family dissension and adventure with healthy doses of faith and optimism. The result is a satisfying analysis of family dysfunction in the spirit of Sue Miller.-- Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois Univ. at Carbondale Lib.
Jennifer Howard
If any group of mortals knows how it feels to be expelled from paradise, it's the Auberon clan, the appealingly wretched family in Andrea Barrett's fourth novel....Ms. Barrett nicely details the quiet agonies of people who have fallen from grace through bad luck and worse judgment, and suggests that if you can't regain paradise, you can at least make peace with its loss. -- New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671795221
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1994
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 0.68 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Barrett

Andrea Barrett is the author of Archangel, The Air We Breathe, Servants of the Map (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), The Voyage of the Narwhal, Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. She teaches at Williams College and lives in northwestern Massachusetts.

Biography

Andrea Barrett combines, as the critic Michiko Kakutani put it, "a naturalist's eye with a novelist's imagination." For the award-winning novelist and short-story writer, natural science, particularly nineteenth-century natural history, is a central preoccupation, and scientists and naturalists such as Linnaeus, Darwin, and Mendel frequently figure in her work. Barrett herself, however, gave up the study of science shortly after completing an undergraduate degree in biology. She entered a Ph.D. program in zoology but dropped out during the first semester.

Yet the way Barrett writes is, perhaps, her own brand of science; it involves long hours of research and the painstaking distillation of historical fact into historically accurate fiction. By her own admission, Barrett is an obsessive researcher: "Often for a story, I will do enough research to write a couple of novels, and for a novel I'll do enough research to have written an encyclopedia," she said in an interview in The Atlantic. But in the end, she adds, "fiction is about the characters, the image, the language, the poetry, the sound; it isn't about information. The information has to be distilled down to let us focus on what's really going on with the people."

Barrett didn't start writing fiction in earnest until her thirties, and she labored in comparative obscurity until 1996. Then, with four novels already behind her, she won the National Book Award for her first collection of short stories, Ship Fever. The collection explores the romantic and intellectual passions of a variety of historical and fictional characters, from an aging Linnaeus to a pair of contemporary marine biologists. In it, "science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material," said the Boston Globe.

The book's success launched Barrett into the literary limelight, where her reputation continued to grow. Her next book, The Voyage of the Narwhal, tells the story of a doomed scientific voyage to the Arctic in 1855. The writer Thomas Mallon called it "a brilliant reversal of Heart of Darkness: the danger is not that the characters will 'go native,' but that a lust for scientific knowledge and intellectual distinction will drive them to cruelties they would have been incapable of before."

Recently, Barrett's work has begun to feature recurring characters, some of them related to one another. In another collection of stories, Servants of the Map, several characters from Ship Fever reappear, as does the ship cook from The Voyage of the Narwhal. As Barrett follows the trajectory of their lives and relationships, it is increasingly apparent how attuned she is to the emotional lives, as well as the intellectual lives, of her characters. As Barry Unsworth wrote in The New York Times Book Review, Barrett captures "that blend of precision and appropriateness that has always characterized the best prose, an attentiveness to the truth of human feeling that is in itself a supremely civilized value."

Good To Know

When she isn't writing, Barrett plays African percussion with a group of musicians in Rochester, N.Y. The group includes her husband, the biologist Barry Goldstein.
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