Wednesday, January 07, 2009
The Hour I First Believed
You know how there are some authors you avoid, but you don't really know why? Despite the presence of She's Come Undone on my bookshelf, Wally Lamb is one such author for me. And I'm sorry Wally. Truly. Because you rock.*
I was actually a bit intimidated by this book. The 752 pages had me cringing, especially since this was my inaugural foray into Wally Lamb territory. However, I blew through this baby so fast I was trying to slow myself down.
Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen move to Littleton, Colorado in the 1990's to start over. Caelum is a high school English teacher, Maureen a nurse, and they both find jobs at Columbine High. On the fateful day of April 20, 1999, Caelum has returned home to Connecticut to be with his dying aunt. Maureen, however, is present in the library during the Columbine shootings. Although she survives, Maureen is irrevocably changed by the events of that day and the things she heard.
The Quirks end up leaving Littleton and returning home to the family farm in Connecticut. There, Caelum tries to help Maureen recover while simultaneously uncovering family secrets and trying to come to grips with his own past.
There is so much more to this story than this quick synopsis. I was amazed by Lamb's ability to weave together so many seemingly disparate threads. When I first started I was wondering where he was going with the story, but after about a hundred pages I just sat back and enjoyed watching everything unfold.
The other thing about this book that initially disturbed me was the presence of Columbine and how Lamb uses an actual event as the catalyst for his story. I wasn't sure I liked how he took a national tragedy and made it his own. But in the afterword he addresses this very issue:
The depth and scope of Harris and Klebold's rage, and the twisted logic by which they convinced themselves that their slaughter of the innocent was justified, both frightened and confounded me. I felt it necessary to confront the "two-headed monster" itself, rather than concoct Harris- and Klebold-like characters. Were these middle-class kids merely sick, or were they evil?....Why all this rage? Why all these deaths and broken-hearted survivors?Of course, at 752 pages, that means there's plenty of time to nitpick a few other things:
- All of Caelum's tragedy is a little too much...I mean, good grief, can't the guy get a break?
- Jesse and Velvet, while analyzed in depth in earlier chapters, are short-changed at the end.
- And Lizzie Quirk - I could have done without her life story, especially that late in the book.
*Also who rocks is Book Club Girl, who sent me this book. Dude, it's a signed first edition. How cool is that? Anyhoosie, Wally Lamb will be on Book Club Girl On Air on January 27th. More details to be found here.