Select one of the keywords
The Hour I First Believed    by Wally Lamb order for
Hour I First Believed
by Wally Lamb
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg

Caelum Quirk had moved to Littleton, Colorado, to give himself a fresh start. Caelum is married to his 'three-strikes-and-you're-out' wife Maureen and Littleton is their chance to leave the past behind. An English teacher at the local high school, Caelum and Maureen, a school nurse, are almost happy again. When his beloved Aunt Lolly dies, Caelum must return to Connecticut to settle her estate. Leaving Maureen behind, he returns to his family farm. Caelum is making arrangements for Lolly's funeral when his friend Alphonse tells him to turn on the television. He is horrified to see his high school splashed across the screen, as Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold take Columbine hostage, with deadly results. Frantic with worry for Maureen, Caelum flies back to Colorado, into a living nightmare.

Maureen is one of the lucky ones - trapped in the library, hidden in a cabinet, she hears Harris and Kliebold on their murderous rampage, but is not found. She is, however, deeply emotionally scarred, and quickly diagnosed with PTSD. Unable to continue working at the high school, or even to live in their home, Maureen becomes a ghost of her former self. Desperately trying to help his wife, Caelum decides to take them back home - back to Connecticut, to his family farm, where Maureen might have a chance to heal.

The farm does not contain magic, however, and Maureen's condition only worsens. Secretly addicted to narcotics, her erratic behavior puts their entire livelihod at risk. As Caelum struggles to work three jobs, take care of his wife, and battle his own demons, he begins to unearth the history of his own family in the attic of the farmhouse. When information comes to light that puts his heritage in question, he has to find out who he truly is, and what he believes, before he can ever help his wife become whole again.

The Hour I First Believed is a monster of a novel, both in sheer size and in content. Spanning two decades in the Quirks' life, the author uses some of the most devastating events in recent American history - the Columbine shooting, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq - as backdrop for his heartwrenching narrative. At times the novel feels almost too ambitious - could all these tragedies really touch the lives of one unfortunate couple? Lamb is a skillful author, and the opening section of the novel, which deals with Columbine and its aftermath, is flawless. It is the second half of the novel which falters, just slightly, but enough that the emotional impact of the first half is lost.

Lamb's cast of characters is large, but brilliantly drawn. He is at his best when illustrating the complex relationships that exist between people, and the flawed but sympathetic Caelum and Maureen will live with readers long after the novel is done. Maureen's struggle to overcome fear, and Caelum's journey to find himself, are emotional and gripping, and readers will recognize much of themself in these characters. The Hour I First Believed is not a perfect novel, but its intense, compelling narrative will keep readers turning the pages until the very end.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews