Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

I loved Wally Lamb's first two novels in the late 1990's. They were unique tales about tormented individuals that you couldn't put down. I was very excited to see that his long awaited book, The Hour I First Believed, was finally out. It was a 700-page book that I couldn't put down - a fascinating complex tale of the times we live in now.

There is a lot going on in this book - and it's hard to pin down the plot line. Caelum Quick is an English teacher in Columbine in the 1990's and his wife Maureen is the school nurse. The two had moved to Colorado to try to have a fresh start to help their troubled marriage. The Columbine Massacre leaves Maureen with Post Traumatic Stress disorder and the two move back to Caelum's Connecticut family farm. They have a rough time of it and Caelum starts to learn more about his family's fascinating past. That's the plot roughly - but their was much more going on.

Some of my favorite parts . . .

Caelum is in New Haven talking to his friend Janis about how in the old letters they have from his grandmother, there is talk of a river that no longer seems to exist. He tells Janis it probably dried up or went underground.

Janis says, "You can do that? Make a river go underground?"

Caelum replies "Civil Engineers can. Sure."

Since this is my line of work - I thought it was very cool. Besides that though, I like how they discuss that Caelum's ancestors are like the river. "We put them in the ground, right? But we also carry them forward because our blood is their blood, our DNA is their DNa. So we're intimately connected to these people who lives - whose histories - have gone underground and become invisible to us." Just like the river. I thought this was a great concept. Once Pandora's box is opened, Caelum discovers that life for his ancestors was very complicated and not much different than his own, with tragedies and heartache aplenty.

A couple other related quotes:

"Nothing ever changes, Janis had said. it did though. We lived, lulled on the fault line of chaos. Change could come explosively and out of nowhere."

". . . it reminds me of something Janis said to me that day up at Bushnell Park: that our ancestors move along with us, in underground rivers and springs too deep for chaos to reach."

This novel explored the tragedies of mental illness, Columbine, the war in Iraq, Katrina, women's prisons, drug addiction, sexual abuse, etc. It was quite the novel. I couldn't put it down.

The only negative I had with the book is my own prudish reading habits. I really didn't like when Lamb had graphic descriptions of Caelum masterbating. I could really have done without that.

Other than that I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down. Lamb is a 21st century Charles Dickens.


  1. Nice review, Laura. I have this book on my TBR list. I tried to read it several years ago and couldn't get through it but I want to try it again.

  2. A co-worker of mine is reading this book and loving it also! I haven't read any Lamb novels yet but I hope to change that this year.