Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: The Hour I First Believed

"Some explosion--as local as rifle fire, as worldwide as war--can set things reeling in a whole different direction, can cause a fork in the road. And one path may lead to disintegration, the other to a reordered world."

In The Hour I First Believed, author Wally Lamb anchors his plot in the reality of the Columbine High School tragedy, with in-depth details of the day itself and the back story of the events. However, from there, this book is all his own.

In the days before the shooting, narrator Caelum Quirk, an English teacher at the school, returns home to Connecticut to be by the side of his beloved aunt, the woman who helped raise him, after a stroke, from which she won't recover. While he is away, that fateful day occurs, and his wife, Maureen, a school nurse, is trapped in the library, hidden in a cabinet to escape the killers.

The aftermath of the incident is too much for Maureen to bear, and she develops a powerful addiction to medication as a coping mechanism. With their marriage faltering, Caelum, hoping to break the cycle, decides to move them to his family's farm, now his own, to start their life anew. However, they still have more tragedy ahead.

With this move, back in his childhood home, Caelum begins to discover more about his family, what his ancestry represented in history, far beyond what he already knew. Through detailed files within the house, he uncovers some startling and painful revelations.

This book is large in volume...and large in scope. I struggled about three-quarters of the way through, when the details of the past started to overwhelm the current storyline, as it spans several generations and goes into what I considered borderline-overkill detail. However, just when I started to fade, it kicked back in. Honestly, there is almost no way to summarize the plot justly...there are so many elements involved.

Lamb does a remarkable job at portraying the events at Columbine. The research that went into this book is both evident and impressive.

It is a heartbreaking look at what a survivor of such an incident must endure. At its heart, though, is the story of a man who realizes that his life wasn't what he thought and his journey to find both the truth and himself.

While this book lags in places, I still think it should be on everyone's must-read list. Lamb is one of those novelists whose quality begs you to read what he has written...even if if it took the better part of a decade for his latest release.


bermudaonion said...

I have this one on my Christmas wish list.

Diane said... did a great job reviewing this one. A tough read indeed.

Les said...

I love Wally Lamb's novels. This is a must-buy for me. Maybe someone will give it to me for my birthday or Christmas!

Carol Ford said...

This sounds like an awesome, if somewhat tough read. Tragedies like this one haunt all of us.