- Fizzy Thoughts: The Hour I First Believed

The Hour I First Believed

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


The Hour I First Believed
Wally Lamb
November 2008
752 pages

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.
However, despite my complaints, I really enjoyed the book. I'm now looking forward to reading his other books. Not right away though. I think a Wally Lamb marathon might be a bit much.

*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.

18 comment(s):

bermudaonion said...

My Secret Santa sent me this and I can't wait to read it. Thanks for your review.

softdrink said...

Kathy - I hope you enjoy it!

Charley said...

I read She's Come Undone some years ago, and I think I was too young, because I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by it. I look forward to reading your review if/when you read it.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Well it's sitting on my shelf. Staring at me as I type this. I guess I need to give it a go!

sherry said...

I've read his other two -- and liked them a lot. I have this latest book and it's sitting there ever so patiently.

Melanie said...

I love Wally Lamb. I've been saving this one as a reward for finishing up some other titles that I'm not as interestred in reading.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Thanks for the review! I like Lamb's style - quirky but full characters.

LOVED *She's Come Undone*, but not so much *I Know This Much is True*.

I've had *The Hour I First Believed* on my wish list, and I'll get to it someday! I imagine a signed first edition won't be making its way to your book closet :)

regularrumination said...

Great review! I think I might pick this up today.

- Lu

Dar said...

I love Wally Lamb and have this book. I haven't gotten around to it yet and it's so huge I'm not sure when I will but I am anxious to read it. I'm glad you liked it. I really loved She's Come Undone.

Joanne said...

"However, I blew through this baby so fast I was trying to slow myself down."

Ok, I'm convinced to read this now. I was very worried that being almost 800 pages I would find it slow. Thanks for the cool review!

Lexi said...

After reading "I Know This Much Is True," I fell in love with Wally Lamb. I can't wait to pick this book up, but I vowed to wait till the paperback comes out. 700+ pages in hardback would give me carpal tunnel!

Lexi said...

After reading "I Know This Much Is True," I fell in love with Wally Lamb. I can't wait to pick this book up, but I vowed to wait till the paperback comes out. 700+ pages in hardback would give me carpal tunnel!

softdrink said...

Charley - yeah, it's been intimidating me, too, and I haven't even read it!

Michele - don't books know staring is rude?!?

Sherry - Patient? Your books must be nicer than mine...they're all yelling at me. And Michele's books are staring at her.

Melanie - :-D Ah yes, I know how that goes...some books are a treat.

Dawn - Hahahaha. Ha. Yeah, I'm keeping this one.

Lu - Thanks for stopping by.
And yes, go start it right now! :-D

Dar - I really want to read his other books, but I don't want to burn myself out, either. You know how that can happen with an author?

Joanne - There are parts that drag, but overall I was surprised by how fast it went. Of course, I blew through Edgar Sawtelle, too...and many people thought that was the longest book ever.

Lexi (and Lexi) - Yes, it would make a good doorstop. Or a weapon.

Stephanie said...

I've read all his fiction, and I'm not sure which one I like best. They're all amazing. I think She's Come Undone is the one that's stuck with me the most, but I can't imagine I'll be forgetting this one at all, ever. Too intense.

Give his other fiction a try, I think you'll enjoy it. :) (No burnouts, though!;)

Ti said...

I know what you mean about being a bit intimidated by the book. I've read his other books and loved then but for some reason, this one is still in the background for me. I guess I am waiting to be in the right mood for it but that will probably never happen given the subject.

On a side note. When I went to Colorado for vacation this past summer I accidently drove right past Columbine and it totally freaked me out. I actually "felt" the tension and then realized later why.

Stephanie said...

I got a copy from Book Club Girl too, although haven't yet actually read it!

Meg89 said...

I've been really curious about this book, the cover art is so interesting, but I hadn't seen anyone review it yet!

It sounds like a great book for the ever-growing TBR pile!

Literate Housewife said...

Excellent review! Okay, I'll pony up and read it at some point. I am with you in the avoid camp. There's something about the Oprah connection that turns me off for some reason.

The first time I traveled to Denver on business they took us to this wonderful fondue restaurant in Littleton. It kind of gave me the creeps when I saw the sign, but I couldn't figure out why. Then we passed by the school. I couldn't imagine living there - but then again, I don't live all that far from Virginia Tech.

I can see what you mean about using a real tragedy within a novel, but sometimes it takes filtering something like that through art for it to be processed.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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