Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

From Goodreads: When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.


Wow, what a lengthy description, I stuck it all here because this is a lengthy book. Long ago I read and loved She's Come Undone (pre-blogging so no link!) but I hesitated with this one because it was soooo long! A friend in California was giving it a go and I just saw the Chunkster challenge so I decide to go for it too. I got started and then figured out the Chunkster doesn't even begin until February so I tried to put it aside but I couldn't. I just had to keep reading. The book starts out in present times as the Columbine shootings unfold and at this point neither of the main characters, Caelum or Maureen, are very likable but they are interesting. As the story progresses another element is added, the discovery of family papers. This begins a second story - the "story within a story" which usually I don't care for (prime example). There is a praise quote on the back cover for his other book, I Know This Much is True that mentions "structural symmetry". I think that idea applies to this book as well, the symmetry between the two stories was obvious enough that even a relatively un-introspective reader such as myself could pick up on it. I imagine I probably only caught the broadest examples and there were other more subtle weavings together that I missed. I remember when I read She's Come Undone how amazed I was that a middle aged man could capture a girl's point of view so perfectly. With this one I was amazed at all of it, he captured the emotions of such a wide array of characters with such honesty that it was hard to tell where the real and the imagined parted ways. I guess I will have to add I Know This Much is True to my TBR list because Wally Lamb is hitting two for two thus far - this book was a home run for me.

5 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Wow, I've loved every Wally Lamb book I've read, but have put this one off because of its size. It sounds like it's well worth the time. Great review!

Jenny said...

I read She's Come Undone years ago and really didn't like it and as a high school teacher, anything about Colombine has been taboo for me, it is still just too hard. But, your review made me want to try this one.

Kay said...

I loved his earlier book, I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE. It was a chunkster too, but very worthwhile. I'll have to put this one on my one day list. Thanks for sharing!

Booksnyc said...

I have loved all of Wally Lamb's books but haven't read this one yet - I think its length tends to put me off. Glad to hear it is worth it! Thanks for the great review!

Espana said...

Just as everyone else did, I excitedly awaited the arrival of this book. Wally Lamb had done it again...he's written a riveting story! The characters were very interesting. I loved how Caelum learned about his family history. It was all fascinating. My eyes were opened to the PTSD the Columbine survivors experience. Thank you, Mr. Lamb. Nothing else I read this year will be this well-written.