Sunday, December 28, 2008 By: Suzanne

The Hour I First Believed

So I just finished reading Wally Lamb's newest creation, The Hour I First Believed. I was very moved by this book. Lamb doesn't let his characters off easy. They have hard lives and have to make hard choices. His first two books, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, are witness to this. In those first two books, the main characters are often dealing with one personal tragedy that has made their life spin out of control. The same is true for The Hour I First Believed, with the exception that the first trauma is more like a jumping point. Life will not only never be the same, it's almost impossible to stop the following tragedies that are a result of the first.

The book is about a couple, Caelum (teacher) and Maureen Quirk (school nurse), who are witnesses to the Columbine massacre. Caelum is out of town seeing to his aunt's funeral when he sees the footage on television and rushes home to find out if his wife, students, and colleagues are still alive. Maureen is still alive, but having been in the library during the shooting, she is a different woman when she walks out of the school than she was when she walked in that day. (This is all on the cover, so I'm not spoiling anything!)

Although Caelum and Maureen are fictional characters, many of the real victims are featured in the story. Lamb takes the time to detail exactly what happened that day and the planning that went into it by the two boys for those who may not have spent every minute in front of the television watching it unfold as it happened (as I did). Ironically, it is Caelum that makes the statement that although many kids are bullied, they don't go out and commit mass murder while Maureen (briefly) sees why it might happen in the first place. In her role as school nurse, she has been giving comfort to the students who feel like outsiders. Maureen's PTSD is debilitating in the aftermath and Caelum's life is turned in so many directions that it can't even be called up-side-down. The later tragedies of 9/11 and Katrina make appearances in the story as well as the Civil War.

I saw a review that stated Lamb takes too many tangents from the main storyline. I didn't feel that was the case at all. Every generation in Caelum's family, going aback to the civil war, has a prominent role at one point in the story. However, I don't feel these were "tangents" but integral parts of a story that would have been incomplete without them. It is true that his and Maureen's story could have been told well without these bits of history and the book may have been much shorter but I felt that Lamb was making the point with these "tangents." We are not solely the product of our parents and those who have been in our lives from birth but every major decision in the lives of those before us, continues to affect us whether we realize it or not. Those people made decisions that would have made our own lives very different if another choice was made.

I waited a long time for this book, having greatly enjoyed his first two, and Wally Lamb did not disappoint.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a powerful message. I'm still holding onto She's Come Undone.

I'm about 3/4 of the way through The Hobbit.

Tonya said...

Pick it up and read it. Wonderful book!

How are you liking the Hobbit?

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm into it now . . . but, I'm thinking sci-fi/fantasy is not really my thing. That's probably why I didn't like C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" series.

I am enjoying it, but . . .

Tonya said...

I think sci-fi/fantasy is something you have to get into young, but who knows! Maybe I got into it young because it was my thing.

Jenners said...

Hi! I came right over to see what you had to say about this book after you left a comment on my review. Funny how we came at it from two different perspectives! I agree with you -- all the sections are well done -- I just felt like there was so much going on that the main story was sacrificed. I always try not to read other reviews before I write mine so I don't let them affect my honest reactions to a book. I even "sat" on this review to see if I changed my mind about it before writing it. I found the Columbine material gripping -- and I wished the focus has stayed more on this. Although the Lizzy Popper material DID directly affect Caleum's story, I just thought it was indulgent how Lamb handled it. I definitely want to check out more reviews on this book from book bloggers! I think this is a book that you will either love or you will find a mess (like me). Though, like I said in my review, the writing is spectacular! Thanks!

Tonya said...

From what I could tell most people felt the way you did about it. I wonder what I would have thought if I hadn't been SO VERY excited for another Wally Lamb book. I was really looking forward to Columbine storyline and didn't feel I was disappointed there but now that I've had some time to reflect, I wonder if it might have been even more powerful if he'd stuck to that. I don't know. I just remember loving the book.