Friday, January 30, 2009

Review:The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Description: Wally Lamb's two previous novels, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, struck a chord with readers. They responded to the intensely introspective nature of the books, and to their lively narrative styles and biting humor. One critic called Wally Lamb a "modern-day Dostoyevsky," whose characters struggle not only with their respective pasts, but with a "mocking, sadistic God" in whom they don't believe but to whom they turn, nevertheless, in times of trouble (New York Times).

In his new novel, The Hour I First Believed, Lamb travels well beyond his earlier work and embodies in his fiction myth, psychology, family history stretching back many generations, and the questions of faith that lie at the heart of everyday life. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, at once a meditation on the human condition and an unflinching yet compassionate evocation of character.

When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.

As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary—and American.

The Hour I First Believed is a profound and heart-rending work of fiction. Wally Lamb proves himself a virtuoso storyteller, assembling a variety of voices and an ensemble of characters rich enough to evoke all of humanity.

Wally Lamb is most definitely, one of my favorite authors. I was thrilled when I heard about his upcoming novel, The Hour I First Believed and was anxious to read the book. I had read his previous novels and enjoyed them both and I had a feeling that this one would not disapoint. I was right, The Hour I First Believed, is a rich novel filled with layers of detail and intrigue that it felt like I was peeling away the layers of an onion waiting to reach the core or the truth at the center. I never knew exactly where the story would take me and the storytelling was superb. The novel held my interest throughout and that says a lot as this book is over 700 pages! There were some sad and difficult moments to read and I found myself deeply touched by many of the events. I found the main character, Caelum Quirk to be following the same metaphor of peeling away the layers of an onion. He was able to peel away the layers related to his life to find the heart of his issues and to discover some of the the truth that he sought. I felt connected to the characters who were extremely well developed throughout the story. After I finished the book, I would often think of the characters and what may have happened next. To me, that is a sign of a great novel!

The author chose to use a unique style of combining a fictional story with non-fictional events. Throughout the novel he wove in details related to Columbine, 9/11 , Hurricane Katrina, the history and conditions of women's prisons and others. I found this style very effective as I had been effected by these events through media and from knowing others effected by these tragedies and their own personal experiences. As readers, most of us have been effected in some way by the events in our world and can relate to that experience. As many of you know as you read my blog, I am very fond of epistolary novels and love reading books related to letters and journals. This is a favorite style of writing that I like to read. Wally Lamb chose to add journals , diaries and letters related to second generational family members to share the story. To me, this was an enhancement to the novel which personalized the story and helped to better understand the characters family history.

The search for faith is a strong theme in the book. The book explores the possibility that randomness controls our existence as well as exploring the theories of chaos vs. order. I loved the symbolism connected to the Praying Mantis that was woven throughout the novel. The Mantis appeared to me to symbolize hope and of stillness, the reminder to listen to the small voice within and you will eventually find the answers you are looking for .

*FYI: There are some graphic scenes related to violence, sex and language. Peronally, I did not find it offensive as it went along with the characters, the style of writing and the storyline. Keep this in mind, if you are sensitive to this style of writing.

Here are a few things to supplement your reading experience of this book:

* I want to thank Book Club Girl for sending me this beautiful, Signed First Edition copy of The Hour I First Believed. I will treasure this special copy.


  1. Great review, Bonnie. It's definitely on my TBR list!

  2. This sounds like a very good book!

  3. I am still reading this book, but I hope to finish it soon.

  4. Great review Bonnie! I have his new book on my shelf to read. I hope to get to it soon.

  5. Wow, this book sounds awesome! I've seen it on a few professional book review lists, but I don't put much stock in those. I like reading real reviews, and this one convinced me to look for this book.

    Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

  6. What an excellent review Bonnie!! I love Wally Lamb too and am going to be borrowing this book from a friend at work. I look forward to reading this and am excited that there are letters, diary entries, etc. that are used within the framework of the book. The links are great!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  7. Okay, I don't do praying manti (how do you pluralize that word?). They creep me out and I don't know how I would handle reading a book in which those words are there in print more than once. ACK!!!

  8. Outstanding Review Bonnie. I want to read this book so bad. If I had a copy I would be in danger of just stopping everything to read it. I LOVE WALLY LAMB BOOKS.

  9. I know this is weird that you are getting a comment you wrote a while ago but I just read and reviewed this book and wanted to check out what others said about it. (I always like to hold off on reading other reviews until I write my own). We had very different views on this book -- which is what makes reading so fun. everything you really like, I didn't! So thanks ... I love getting different views on books -- especially one that seems to be a bit polarizing!


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