Monday, April 4, 2011

Julie's Review: The Hour I First Believed

The Hour I First Believed: A Novel (P.S.) Summary: The Hour I First Believed, Lamb travels well beyond his earlier work and embodies in his fiction myth, psychology, family history stretching back many generations, and the questions of faith that lie at the heart of everyday life. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, at once a meditation on the human condition and an unflinching yet compassionate evocation of character. 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. As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary—and American. The Hour I First Believed is a profound and heart-rending work of fiction. Wally Lamb proves himself a virtuoso storyteller, assembling a variety of voices and an ensemble of characters rich enough to evoke all of humanity.

Review: Have you read Wally Lamb? No? You should. The Hour I First Believed is an engrossing novel with characters you might not like but you definitely won't forget. I bought this book because it appeared to be a fictionalized account of Columbine with a lot of fact thrown in. It ends up being partly about Columbine but not the focus. The focus of the book is how people deal with tragedy and how they survive it.

Mr. Lamb focuses on PTSD in various forms and how we all process tragedy in different ways. We are introduced to Caelum and Maureen Quick and off the bat you know their marriage is on the rocks. I didn't find Caelum or Maureen particularlly likable but that's why I liked them. They had faults, very real faults. Caelum was a bit self-involved and Maureen seemed to have checked out of their marriage even though they are working on it. Then Columbine happens and everything they were working on and everything begins again. Maureen was in the library and hid in a cabinet to survive. Afterwards, she begins to delve into drugs as a way of survival of the flashbacks from that day. Caelum does everything he can think of to help her but she keeps pulling away. The best and worst decision they ever make is to move back to the family farm in Conneticut.

Maureen starts to recover and even goes back to work as a nurse at a local nursing home. Just when they seem to be getting back on track, another situation occurs and brings even more tragedy to the small Quirk family.

There is also the subplot regarding Caelum's ancestory. This was not my favorite part of the book. I found that it lagged in places and took away from the main plot. I understand why it was included in the book, but I fell that it could have been pared down.

There are a couple twists and turns that I didn't see coming but added an extra umph to the novel.

I loved the journey that Mr. Lamb took us on throughout the book. Is it happy? No, not at all. It's it a satisfying journey overall. I don't think I ever ended up really liking Caelum but regardless I appreciated him.

The book is about finding yourself through family history, self-revelation, self-preservation and tragedy. This book was much more than I thought it was going to be and for that I'm grateful.

Final Take: 4/5

For a Non-Ficition account of Columbine you can find Jenn's Review here of Dave Cullen's Columbine.

On a Personal Note: One of the survivors is my mom's cousin's step-son. So whenever I read something or am brought back to that day, I think of his life and the lives of others who were dramatically changed.



Roof Beam Reader June 7, 2011 at 12:06 PM  

I have come close to picking up this book on a few occasions. Great summary of it, and I'm glad you enjoyed it! I haven't read anything by this author, but I may have to add this one to the list.

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