The Hour I First Believed: A Novel by Wally Lamb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This will go on my All Consuming list as "Worth Consuming," because the first part of the book really was worth it. In fact, if the whole book had maintained what it had through the first part, it would have been a five star rating for sure.
Caelum Quirk is at his aunt's deathbed when he hears news of a shooting at the high school where he teaches and where his wife, Maureen, is a part time school nurse. Lamb pulls the non-fiction of Columbine (using the factual events, names, and evidence) for his story, and the effect was amazing. It was hard to put this book down and it drew alot of emotions as I read it. Maureen hides herself in a cabinet and survives, only to suffer debilitating post-traumatic stress. The Quirks move back to the farm where Caelum grew up in an effort to help Maureen get her life together and to work on their marriage.
After the great beginning, the book began to lose stars with me. It veers into several different storylines, and while Caelum and Maureen's marriage is always at the core, the off shoots get tedious. A troubled girl from Columbine comes back into their life. Maureen ends up in jail for vehicular manslaughter, an effect of her prescription drug habit. Caelum drinks heavily, mimicking aspects of his father's life, an alcoholic killed in a train accident. He ends up renting his house to a couple who survived Hurricane Katrina, and the wife of the couple starts research into Caelum's family history, much of which Lamb gives with excruciating detail that bored me. My mind frequently wandered during these sections and while I couldn't put the book down at the beginning, I couldn't wait to finish it by the end.
Still, there's alot to be said for Lamb's writing. I remember enjoying his first two books and plan on re-reading them since it's been several years since the first visit. Besides being a talented writer, he doesn't shadow things in happily ever after. His stories are reality checks: major issues that aren't solved in the course of a couple chapters and sometimes not even in the course of the novel. None of his main characters are truly likeable. Caelum is unfeeling, selfish, and judgemental. Maureen is unfaithful coming into the story, weak, and annoying. But somehow, these traits are justified, not to the point where we can like them, but to the point where we can at least understand them.
Readers who enjoy a touch of history may like this book as a whole better than I did. Still, the beginning of it was one of the most powerful things I read and it still maintained a three star rating, even if I did have to slog through the last few hundred pages.
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