Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review: The Hour I First Believed (2008) by Wally Lamb

I know I just did a book review last week, but conveniently, when Mama Kat listed her writing workshops for this week, doing a book review was one of them!
Visit her at Mama's Losin' It.

I will admit off the bat that I am a fan of Lamb’s. If you follow Oprah’s book-reading advice, you may already be, too. The Hour I First Believed is an ambitious, tragic, hopeful story that uses our recent national crises to remind us that humans can endure much and still retain their will to make things better for themselves and others.

Caelum Quirk is our non-hero. Instead of a leading man, we get a guy who is humanly flawed (as are all the characters) and instantly recognizable as your neighbor, your co-worker, your uncle. He and his wife Maureen navigate the waters of life after a shooting at the school where they both work. You guessed it, Columbine. Other segments of the book touch on Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, giving us a backdrop of national fear and sorrow upon which to play the personal tragedies (and there are many) of the Quirks.

The sweeping themes of drug addiction, anger, prison reform, chaos theory, personal ancestry, and traumatic stress are guided by what Lamb calls “ancient myth”. We see several symbols repeated throughout the book, including candles, mazes and praying mantises. This helps the flow of the book and also aids the reader in connecting the past and present (it’s a long book- over 700 pages).

The Quirks are joined by numerous memorable characters who guide them to see beauty, help them solve mysteries, and add excitement to the monotony of a life put on hold by heartbreak and disaster. The book ends not with joy, but with at least hope. Caelum is the one who begins to believe- in what? The reader can decide some things for herself, but Lamb convinces us that we all can survive the unthinkable, many times over, even, and still rise to love, to teach, to comfort, to give.

This is a moving story filled with interesting historical insight and characters with which the reader identifies, flaws and all. Read it.

Next review: Mommies Who Drink by Brett Paesel


  1. There was so much in this book that I loved, but I also wanted all of the character to catch a good break, for once. Poor things.

  2. I will have to check this out!

    BTW, I finished Glass Castle. I really enjoyed it. It's a tough story that really choked me up at times, pissed me off, but in the end I felt hopeful.


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