The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

12 01 2009

hour-i-first-believed1I feel like I was waiting for a new Wally Lamb book forever.  His first two books, She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, came out when I was in high school.  And I loved them.  Since then, I’d check on an increasingly irregular basis to see if he had anything new coming out.  And, finally, this past year, he did – The Hour I First Believed.  I immediately put myself on the list at the library and almost skipped to the library to pick it up when it finally came in.  It almost didn’t disappoint.

The Hour I First Believed is massive.  The 700+ pages follow one of the most unfortunate men on the planet as he deals with Columbine, 9/11, Katrina and The Iraq War while going through some pretty intense personal tragedies.  Not only is the book long with an incredibly broad plot – but it is heavy emotionally.  The book practically drips with sorrow and pain.  Caelum Quirk isn’t the most likable or sympathetic character, he has a tendency to lash out and struggles to take responsibility for his own life, but given what he’s had to face,   I’m not sure many people would act all that differently.

Lamb occasionally breaks up Caelum’s narration with newspaper & magazine articles and letters, and this may be the part that stumbles the most for me.  There were definitely some pages I simply skimmed over because Caelum’s voice is what held me captive.  He struggles through the big questions – what is the meaning of family, love, sacrifice, faith – and because these issues are so universal, the reader ends up joining him on his quest.  His incredibly looooooong quest.

In the end, I liked the book – but didn’t feel the same love I remember from 10 years ago. I don’t know if this is because I’m older and have a little less patience for adults that can’t seem to figure out how to live or if my attention span has waned.  Maybe I just can’t tolerate crushingly depressing stories for days on end any more.  Whatever the reason, by the last 1/4 of the book, I found myself frequently checking to see how many pages I had left.  And, while the ending was beautiful and perfect, I couldn’t quite stifle the sigh of relief that I was finished with the Quirk family and their endless misfortunes.  I’m sure I’ll still read whatever he writes next, because Wally Lamb is truly a very gifted author, but I doubt I’ll be able to muster up the same amount of enthusiasm.

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