While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers five generations' worth of diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in his family's house. As unimaginable secrets emerge, Caelum grapples with the past and struggles to fashion a future from the ashes of tragedy. His quest for meaning is at once mythic and contemporary, personal and quintessentially American.
©2008 Wally Lamb; (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers
I had not read a Wally Lamb book since She's Come Undone, many years ago. I enjoyed that tremendously, and decided that The Hour I First Believed sounded like an interesting premise and worth my time and credit. It was. I recently read the non-fiction book Columbine and I liked how this author wove the actual events with is fictional characters. He also included descriptions of local places in Eastern Connecticut that were sometimes changed and sometimes named correctly. I admit I was initially taken aback by the raw sexually oriented descriptions from the main character's viewpoint, but as I got into the book I appreciated why this was done. It is a complicated book but easily kept my attention, and I was sorry when it was over. Now I am anxious to revisit She's Come Undone. I am disappointed that I Know This Much Is True is only available in Abridged since I generally am not interested in that format.
I always enjoy listening to George Guidall, and he does not disappoint in this book.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
If you like your novels uplifting and concisely-plotted, The Hour I First Believed might not be the book for you. This is a big, ambitious work, seeking to tie together many aspects of the American experience of grief, from historic tragedies, to family dysfunction, to high-profile media tragedies and the individual stories lost in the noise, to the political marginalization of the imprisoned, to the quiet breakdowns that happen over years in the privacy of our own homes. From a less able writer, this would simply be too much stuff to cram into one story without a loss of effectiveness, but Lamb is an author capable of making you believe that, to the contrary, all these things can and do come together in the lives of normal people.
Full of heartache and meandering trips into the past (a la Richard Russo), Lamb's work is about a complex, flawed everyman simply trying not to drown in his own shattered life, reaching out to any floating object that comes near, from therapists to alcohol to sex to his own family history to, finally, expressing himself directly to the reader. At times gut-wrenching (especially the depictions of the Columbine shootings) and at times heartfelt and beautiful, Lamb's writing is very honest. Having lost my brother to a drawn-out battle with cancer and witnessed the different responses of the remaining members of my family to the experience, I can say that the author understands the two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of moving through anger and grief. Like a man who buys a new car, then sees that model of car everywhere he drives, Lamb's protagonist, Caelum Quirk, begins to realize the extent to which everyone around him (or in his past) is living their own story of loss and survival. Through those connections, the story expresses a quiet, moving sense of hope.
Readers of this book seem divided on Lamb's decision to cram so much tragedy into one book, to the point where it starts to seem arbitrary on the part of the author, like God raining down misfortune on Job in the Old Testament. However, I thought this was an intentional decision, meant to challenge the reader and perhaps the author, and I think it mostly worked. It's arguable that the book meanders a little too much, yet I found each sub-story compelling in its own right. I felt that they all fit together on a thematic level, providing an honest emotional history not just of Caelum, but of the ways we Americans face pain, when it strikes us and not just some anonymous stranger on the news.
What started as an interesting fictional story about the Columbine tragedy, started to meander and was complicated by a long & tedious family history of the main character. That family history was necessary to bring the story together at the end but could have been cut WAAAAY down. I found myself half listening to those parts. And the family history parts were made even more tedious, because they were written in the manner of long ago, with never-ending, overly polite descriptions of every detail. I was glad when I finished it.
I loved Mr. Lamb's previous books She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True. This book was a major disappointment! The main characters are so self absorbed it is difficult to have sympathy for them. Their unending wallowing in self pity almost made the book too much to endure. I did finish the book with hopes these characters would redeem themselve but the ending was too little too late. I am still not sure exactly what Calem came to believe or if he even did come to believe much of anything.
By the time the second file started, I was bored with the story. Yes, it is about a terrible tragedy, but this is a fictional book and was doggone depressing. I wanted to like Caelem but he was pretty much an insensitive bastard. I wanted to like the book but it was just one thing after another and too much altogether.
This certainly lacks the greatness of Wally Lambs other novels. If he wrote an outline or had a concept in mind, he sure got distracted. This book tells several stories at once and becomes tedious and unmercifully boring. By the latter part of the book, well into the civil war bore, I found myself skipping chapters. Oddly enough, one would want to feel sorry for the wife who was a victim at Columbine, but even she becomes a cliche. The main character is not terribly likable either, but that could be due to the narration which was the worst I had ever heard. The narrator sounds like a booze laden, smarmy old man who has a voice that would be better off narrating a book about a guy who lures children into his windowless van with the promise of candy. Thrown uncomfortably into the book is "humorous" banter between the main character and his long time friend. Though some of the comments are mildly amusing, they are mostly cringe worthy and seem pushed into the novel in odd places because the author felt funny that night or had a few drinks.
Overall....this is not a horrible read. It just drones on and requires someone who is easily entertained and has a lot of patience......and....has never read another Lamb novel to have to make the sad comparison.
I listened to this book on my commute to and from work. I found myself on more than a few days, sitting in my garage at home or the company parking garage not wanting to stop listening. The narrator was very easy to listen to and the story was excellent. Highly recommend.
I have listened to both this book and "I Know This Much Is True" and I'm not sure which I like the most. The writing is so clear and beautiful. The stories are fascinating. Some might complain that the novel contains 3 or 4 separate stories and that each could have been a novella itself. But I enjoyed every minute and did not lose track of what was happening. The narration was so good I kept forgetting that this was not Wally Lamb telling his own story.
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