Sunday, February 1, 2009



Anxiously awaiting Wally Lamb’s new book, ever since he wrote one of my very favorite books, SHE’S COME UNDONE, I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED. To the reader, Wally Lamb wrote, “I had the title before I had Caelum Quirk’s story, and that title served as the carrot before the horse, me being the horse. What would Caelum come to believe, and at what hour would it happen? It took me nine years to find out.” With that, also not knowing what the book was about, I began to read the over 700 pages written by this brilliant story teller so that I too might find out what this main character first believed.

The story captured me right away as I began to follow Caelum Quirk, a forty-seven-year-old high school teacher, and Maureen, his young wife, a school nurse. Being a teacher myself and remembering the tragedy at Columbine High School quite vividly, I was drawn in immediately to this story taking place in Littleton, Colorado. Both Caelum and Maureen work at Columbine but in April, 1999, Caelum is called home to his dying aunt who lives in Connecticut. While he is there, his aunt dies and the funeral is being planned when the shootings take place at Columbine. Caelum is frantic as he can’t get in touch with Maureen but watches on television as he sees many he knows fleeing the buildings. He gets on the first flight back that he can, all the way not knowing what has happened to his wife.

Maureen, meeting with a student she has taken under her wing, is in the library when all the shooting begins. Maureen tucks herself in a cabinet, listening to the two students as they carefully go about their massacre in that library, waiting at any moment to be found and killed herself. When she is found, it is by officials who are removing all survivors only to go on to reunite with Caelum, but begin her battle with post traumatic stress disorder. Maureen’s story of her struggle with this condition is so well written. It gives the reader a real inside look at how devastating this is not only to the person but the people around them, in this case, Caelum. Finally, Caelum and Maureen decide to leave Colorado to return to his home and the farm he inherited from his aunt in Connecticut.

Back home, Caelum discovers letters, papers, and diaries that he becomes so interested in as he pieces together his ancestors’ story covering five generations. With this he finds out about many long lost family secrets and more about his own disturbed childhood. While Caelum struggles with this, Maureen continues to try and find her way back from her own terror. I think it is about two-thirds of the way through the book, that Mr. Lamb somewhat loses me. I felt I was reading two stories, one within another, but couldn’t get them to connect in some way. While the well-researched story of Caelum’s family is presented in an interesting style often through the primary documents, it just didn’t hold my interest the way that the story of Maureen and Caelum did. I wanted to get back to how Maureen was dealing with her disorder and how the couple was going to ever get their lives back.

When the story leaves Maureen, it also somewhat left me. I realize afterwards that the part about Caelum’s family is related back to Columbine with the hatred, wars, and violence, but I just found it hard to make the connection while I was reading the book. I thought about it quite a bit upon finishing the story and therefore at that point think I understood where the story was going. I wanted to love Wally Lamb’s new book as much as my beloved SHE’S COME UNDONE, but I didn’t. After making myself realize it wasn’t going to happen, however, the last part of the book drew me back in and I finished it as a satisfied reader.

I do think that the book generated much discussion by those of us who read it and that is also the sign of a great author. Perhaps, had I known a little more about the two stories actually relating more, I would have been more patient during the time I was reading it? Those who are going to read the book, and I highly recommend you do, take on the challenge but keep this in mind about blending the two stories. If one goes back to Wally Lamb’s first words to the reader about how he had the title first, and wondered what Caelum would come to believe and when it would happen, then as readers perhaps Mr. Lamb wants us to also figure that out for ourselves in relation to the story? That said, after finishing THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED, what did you come to understand from the story, and when did that happen?

Submitted Originally to Curled Up with a Good Book by Karen Haney, January, 2009


Tracy(bookroomreviews) said...

I had the exact same thoughts about this book as you did. He is one of my favorites, but this book lost me at the end. Great review!

Ladytink_534 said...

Sounds like an interesting story! I read a book by this author many years ago but I don't remember much about it.

Bingo said...

Ladytink, I read his first, SHE'S COME UNDONE, and it is one of my all-time favorite books. His second one was I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE but I didn't get to that one. I still think this is well worth reading, but I just was a little let down. HOWEVER, I hear lots of people saying THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY has the same feel of SHE'S COME UNDONE and so far I find it true so that's great, especially since I have 5 to give away! Don't forget to enter! Take care..Bingo

Wrighty said...

Hi Bingo! Sorry it took me so long to get here. I haven't been able to get much blogging done lately so I've got a lot of work to do! I have you on my blogroll but I couldn't become a follower of your blog either. I've only had that happen once and I don't know why. Especially if neither of us could do it. Hmm...I'll have to ask around about that one. Anyway, love your blog! You get so much done here and we seem to have lots of books in common. I've had my blog since the fall and am working at a much slower pace but I'm enjoying it. I'm also getting ready to host some contests. I wasn't ready to do it sooner. So happy to visit here and I think I'll go sign up for your Patterson contest.

Bingo said...

Don't worry, Wrighty, there is no Patterson give away now, but there is one coming so keep checking back! Thanks! Love your blog as well and wish I had your talent with all the computer stuff!