Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Review: The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

All you book lovers may have noticed that I updated the "Books I'm Currently Reading" list. Today I finished The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb and I thought I'd jot down my thoughts for those of you who might be thinking about reading it. I've been reluctant to give my views of books I haven't loved for fear of discouraging people from reading books that they may have been looking forward to reading. But, I have decided to give my honest opinion of the books I've read with the hope that my opinion will not sway someone away from a book that they already had a strong desire to read.

Like thousands of other Wally Lamb fans I had been waiting with bated breath for years for his next book. And I was so excited to finally be reading it (even though it's a daunting 723 pages). The Hour I First Believed is the story of Caelum Quick a teacher at Columbine High School and his wife, Maureen, who is the school nurse there. Maureen is in the library on the day of the shooting and is able to hide from the two teenage assassins. Caelum, on the other hand, is out of town on the day of shooting attending to the funeral details of his aunt in New Hampshire. The story centers around how this tragic and terrifying event effects Maureen and her life with Caelum. At least that is what the first 1/3 of the book is about. And it is good. Very good. It's after that that the author loses me. His writing is still fantastic, but the book begins to feel a bit like a Forest Gump-type story of how Caelum is touched by all the tragedies between Columbine and the Iraqi War (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib). And of top of all that the author throws in the 150 year history of Caelum's family through the correspondence of his great-great-grandmother, which he just happens to find in his dead aunt's house in NH. Oh, and he ends up with renters who escaped Katrina, one of which just happens to be getting a PhD in Women's Studies and is more than interested in reading through these letters and turning them into a PhD thesis, which is published (and printed within the confines of the book). A bit too neat and contrived for me. That being said, the story was still engaging enough that I read the whole book - including the Afterword, Author's Notes and Acknowledgements. Overall, I thought the book was good, but not great. It's not a book I would recommended as one everyone absolutely should read, but neither is it one I would discourage someone from reading. If you're a Wally Lamb fan and have been looking forward to it, I don't think you'll regret taking the time to read it.

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