Sunday, September 13, 2009
The Hour I First Believed
By Wally Lamb
5.0 out of 5 stars
Not "why" or "if" we believe, but "how"...
Although quite long with many subplots, this story of a middle-aged man's search for something to believe in has deeply touched me. The book is divided into several sections, each dealing with different aspects of the lives and choices made by the many characters in the novel from friends to relatives to persons who lived during the time and era being described. The saga spans the periods of years from the 1800s to present day and includes sociological, cultural, and historical perspectives.
In the first part of the story-- and the one that causes the significant conflict for the main character in the book-- the somewhat unsympathetic and unlikable narrator Caelum Quirk is an English teacher off tending to a dying aunt and his wife a part-time nurse at Columbine High School in Colorado at the time that the massacre of students takes place there in April, 1999. (Though the facts of the rampage are presented in the context of fiction, this is an incredibly moving section of the book.) His wife Maureen (Mo) cannot recover from surviving that terrible day and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. Unable to function, she withdraws and finds solace in illegally obtained prescription drugs. Without going further to convey more plot details, suffice to say that the marriage falters and Caelum is forced to deal with many issues, not the least of which is confounded when historical documents and old letters belonging to his aunt reveal a family history contrary to what he thought he knew.
Part mystery, part expose, the story of Caelum's quest to find out the truth of himself and his family will urge the reader forward until the very last page is turned. This is a novel that draws one in and never lets go; the search for hope and faith, the profound wish that life has meaning and that there is a purpose for it all -- the good or the evil.
Other reviewers have remarked that the plethora of extraneous and/or historical information, the author's lengthy descriptions of certain aspects of the Civil War, and the dissertation written by one of the characters that he included might be off-putting, but I found the detail and description interesting. This is a saga that spans several generations and involves keeping straight many characters and their relationships to each other. There are many details to keep in mind and thus, I just couldn't put it down so as not to get too confused.
Highly recommended. This is one to remember long after the last page is turned.