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The Hour I First Believed Paperback – August 4, 2009
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“Lamb . . . has delivered a tour de force, his best yet. A” (Entertainment Weekly)
“A page-turner. . . . Lamb remains a storyteller at the top of his game.” (Craig Wilson, USA Today)
“Too compelling to put down . . . a richly textured story . . . moving, funny, and completely unpredictable.” (Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“Every character is rendered with vivid, utterly convincing depth. . . . A heck of a page-turner.” (Dallas Morning News)
“Lamb, a maestro of orchestrating emotion . . . knows how to make his fans’ hearts sing.” (Corrie Pikul, Elle)
“Wally Lamb is a remarkable talent.” (Columbus Dispatch)
“Lamb has crafted another affecting, engrossing tome about complicated, interesting characters.” (Cherie Parker, Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“A soaring novel as amazingly graceful as the classic hymn that provides the title” (Miami Herald)
“Lamb does an extraordinary job narrating some of the most terrifying tragedies of the past 10 years....an epic journey. Grade: A.” (Rocky Mountain News)
“When you put Lamb’s newest novel down, it will be reluctantly. It’s that good.” (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
About the Author
Wally Lamb is the author of five New York Times bestselling novels: She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True, The Hour I First Believed, Wishin’ and Hopin’, and We Are Water. His first two works of fiction, She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both #1 New York Times bestsellers and
selections of Oprah’s Book Club. Lamb edited Couldn’t Keep It to Myself and I’ll Fly Away, two volumes of essays from students in his writing workshop at York Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in Connecticut, where he has been a volunteer facilitator for seventeen years.
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Top customer reviews
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I also think that there needs to be a dreaded, slightly decretory tone saying for literary fiction about unnecessary but detailed biographical stories of characters like there is for the "info dump" in science fiction. Complex biographical back stories that adds nothing to the plot, doesn't add complexity to the characters, it just bores the readers and shows how shallow the characterization is in the first place. The weird thing is that this biographical detail wasn't needed at all, the characters were already fully fleshed out with sides to their lives that weren't directly tied to moving the plot forward. Not one of the better reads of the year.
I only reservation I have is the delving into the past, which is a bit irritating in this book, but it prepares the reader slowly for some of the outcomes.
This is the story of Caelum Quirk -- a middle-aged teacher who is trying to come to terms with his present, his past and his troubled marriage. Married to Maureen (his third wife), Caelum's story begins with his troubles handling Maureen's infidelity. In an attempt to save their marriage, they leave their home in Connecticut and move to Littleton Colorado, where they work at Columbine High School. (Yes...that Columbine High School. Maureen is the school nurse and Caelum is an English teacher.) The move seems to help the marriage somewhat, but Caelum and Maureen still have moments of distance between them. Then Caelum's beloved aunt -- and his only link to his family -- suffers a stroke and Caelum returns to Connecticut to say goodbye. While in Connecticut, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold go on their well-publicized rampage in the high school.
Panicked and unable to reach Maureen, Caelum returns in a panic to Littleton. He finally locates her, but she is a shell of her former self. Trapped in the library during the shootings, Maureen is unable to cope with the fact that she has survived. Maureen begins to unravel. Attempting to help Maureen deal with her post-traumatic stress disorder, Caelum moves them back to his aunt's house in Connecticut. There, Maureen continues to deteriorate while Caelum struggles to keep them financially afloat. During this time, Caelum discovers a secret family history that casts a new light on everything he thought was true about his family.
You may be thinking "Wow, just go tell us the whole story, why don't you?" Believe me when I tell you that I just gave you the bare bones plot. There is A LOT going on in this book, which I think is ultimately its fatal flaw.
Don't get me wrong. Wally Lamb is a fantastic writer, and I didn't once consider not finishing this book. However, there is so much going on that I felt that the novel suffered. There are long sections of the book devoted to Caelum's ancestor, Lillian Popper, and her experiences during the Civil War era. (These sections are either provided as diary entries or as excerpts from a "thesis" written by one of the characters.) There is a lengthy "transcript" from when Caelum interviews an older gentleman about the history of a cigarette company. There are subplots about Iraq war veterans, Hurricane Katrina victims, a prison, a family unable to accept their favored son's homosexuality, and Caelum's best friend's search for love and the perfect car. In short, there is material enough in this book for about three novels, but Lamb packs it all into one. Ultimately, I think this was a mistake. If Lamb wanted to write about Lillian Popper's life in such depth, perhaps he should have made this a separate novel.
I also have an issue with some of the amazing coincidences that Lamb contrives for his characters. Isn't it just a little too convenient that the Hurricane Katrina victims he offers shelter to include a women's studies graduate student that pulls together the convoluted story of Caelum's family? And during one point, so much stuff happens at the same time that I just threw up my hands in disbelief.
But...there is no getting around the fact that Wally Lamb is a gifted writer. In the case of this book, I felt like he just had too much to say and crammed it all together into one book. I felt it would have been enough to focus on Caelum and Maureen's marriage and their post-Columbine experiences. I think if the author had pulled out three of the different story threads (the Columbine story, the Lillian Popper story, the Iraq war veteran story), he could have had three distinct and more focused novels. As it is, you get it all in one big, sprawling book, and none of the stories get the attention and focus they deserve.
My Final Recommendation
Ultimately, I cannot give this book a no-holds-barred recommendation. I wish I could have liked this book more because the writing itself is darn good, and I love how Lamb incorporates all the little details that squarely places his story in the time in which it was happening. But I really do think the book is flawed because of its sprawl and disjointed plot. Here's wishing Mr. Lamb's next book is a little more focused.
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all remember Columbus but then is what follows history or a work of art