Another book review! Hoo-boy, this one’s a doozy. It’s long, over 700 pages, but I was able to read it in one week because it is so good. Seriously, you will not want to put it down! Every now and then I come across a book that, when I’m reading it, feels like I’m taking a long drink of cool refreshing water. This book made me feel that. It quenched some thirst I didn’t know I had and I kept going back for more.
I had read Wally Lamb’s two previous novels I Know This Much is True and She’s Come Undone so I had a pretty good feeling I would enjoy his newest novel, The Hour I First Believed. Now, aside from his overuse of personal pronouns in all of his titles, I really do love Wally Lamb. His narrative style is so lively and his books are always introspective, thoughtful and well-crafted. This book is no exception. It centers around a couple, Caelum and Maureen, who move to Littleton, Colorado, trying to get away from an unfortunate turn of events in the place they were previously living. They move to Littleton and they both secure jobs at Columbine High School.
Now, we all know about the tragedy that happened at Columbine. Maureen, caught in the library during the shooting, survives, but must now live with the horror she witnessed that day. Delving into the world of post traumatic stress disorder, Lamb paints a picture of the victims of that day who were never really talked about in the aftermath of the shooting: the survivors.
But it doesn’t end there. This book is about so much more than Columbine. While Maureen struggles to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a treasure trove of old diaries, newspaper clippings and letters stored in a farmhouse that has been in his family for generations. He begins the task of tracing his ancestry, discovering who he is and where he came from.
Here is an excerpt from the Harper Collins Publishers description of the book:
“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.”
One of the main ideas propelling this book forward is the notion of chaos theory or the butterfly effect: where “a small change at one place can result in large differences to a later state. For example, the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane.” Source
I have always been interested in chaos theory. How one small decision I make today can result in a larger, different outcome down the road. For Caelum and Maureen, the decision to move to Littleton, Colorado and work at Columbine changed their lives drastically. We also learn that some of the decisions made by Caelum’s ancestors have direct implications for his current life. Wally Lamb does an exceptional job of weaving five generations together into one cohesive narrative and structuring the book in such a way that it all fits together perfectly with Maureen’s struggle to rediscover her own personal identity.
I highly recommend this book. It will make you think about how fragile our existence is and the importance of each decision that we make, whether big or small.