Oil and Water by P.J. Lazos is an expansive, well written novel which follows the fate of two families. The families couldn’t be more different but Lazos draws us into their separate worlds before bringing them together in a spectacular denouement.
The novel is written in three parts and the first part introduces us to the Tirabi family and the Coleman/Hartos family, both of whom suffer unspeakable tragedies that shatter all of their lives. Lazos’ skill as a writer is very much in evidence as she builds up suspense and danger whilst at the same time getting the reader to really care about her characters and also highlighting the perils of not caring for the environment.
The Tirabi family are the obvious choice for winning the readers’ hearts. Patriarch, Marty, invents a machine called the TDU which can turn any carbon based object into oil. This machine will clearly revolutionise the oil industry but Marty and his political strategist wife, Ruth, are murdered before he can complete the project. This leaves their four children adrift and it’s their plight and relationships that, to me, is the heart of the novel.
My favourite character is Kori, Marty and Ruth’s flaky, twenty something daughter, who is suddenly thrust into the role of provider and mother figure to her younger siblings – especially Gil, the youngest who’s only eight years old. Her feelings of oppressive responsibility lead her into making wrong choices which Lazos presents in a way that’s both realistic and moving.
Running parallel to the Tirabi children, Lazos also invites us into the lives of Bicky Coleman, the CEO of Akanabi Oil and his grieving, chemical engineer son-in-law, David ‘Hart’ Hartos. Bicky is a ruthless business man whose orbit Hart has become embroiled in through his marriage to Bicky’s daughter. From the onset, Bicky is surrounded by intrigue and corruption and the ripples of his dissatisfaction and misery damn everyone he comes into contact with.
In part two of the novel the Akanabi Oil Company is responsible for an oil spill and Lazos uses Hart to demonstrate the repercussions of this on the environment. He is sent by Bicky to help clean up the damage and working alongside the Wildlife Rescue Centre he comes face to face with the horrific damage that oil causes to birds and other wildlife. Lazos also depicts how big business and the government are in league with each other so that the importance of safety and environmental issues are overlooked in favour of profit.
Additionally Lazos uses part two of her novel to show the impact the oil industry has had on the Middle East. Robbie Tirabi, the second eldest of the Tirabi children, enlists into the military and is sent to Iraq. He soon realises that the unrest in that region has been caused by the way so many people such as the “marsh Arabs” have been displaced to make way for the oil industry.
Whilst Robbie is in Iraq, the remaining Tirabis give an interview to the Philadelphia Inquirer and news of the TDU spreads. As Hart becomes more and more disillusioned with the oil business he feels compelled to find the family and discovers a kindred spirit in Gil, a gifted child who has the ability to finish off what his father began. The Tirabis come to represent the sense of family that Hart has been missing but their work on the TDU stirs up terrible danger.
Lazos’ novel is an interesting combination of factual and spiritual. The reality of the impact that unbridled capitalism and human greed can have on the world is offset by the way the Tirabi children are visited by the spirits of their dead parents who guide them to make the right choices. Gil in particular has the ability to see into the future and connect with the spirit world.
I really enjoyed Oil and Water, as it’s both engaging and thought provoking. It’s not an easy read but if you’re looking for something more substantial than a conventional pot boiler then it’s well worth the effort.