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We are Not Ourselves (2014)

by Matthew Thomas

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1,2139911,219 (3.83)38
"Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed. Eileen can't help but dream of a calmer life, in a better neighborhood. When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she's found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn't aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream. Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future. Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a powerfully affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away. Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves is a testament to our greatest desires and our greatest frailties."--… (more)
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    Ciruelo: Both books relate the life story of an Irish American woman in plain, but exceptionally well written language.

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» See also 38 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
(Really 3.5). An epic story of an Irish family. Though it spans the last five decades of the twentieth century, there is very little mention of momentous events from those years - save a brief mention of John F. Kennedy's assassination, an important event in this Irish Catholic family. Instead we see the day-to-day life of Eileen and Ed Leary and their son, Connell - the striving of Eileen for the betterment of her family, the passion of Ed for science and teaching, Connell's troubles as an adolescent and young adult, a move from Queens to the suburbs, money worries. The novel bogs down in places, especially at the beginning. About a third into the book we begin to see events taking place that lead to momentous changes in all their lives. It's a story of an ordinary family grappling with forces beyond their control. But it's also a poignant love story. ( )
  steller0707 | Aug 25, 2019 |
A spot-on portrayal of Alzheimer's and what it can do to a family. It brought back many memories of my grandad who died in 1960. Back in those days, no one ever said Alzheimer's, but today he'd be called a textbook case. Grandad, like Ed in this book, dearly loved baseball. His loss of interest in it was the first sign that, perhaps, something was wrong. Then he got forgetful, disoriented, unpredictable and given to flying into rages. The end was horrible. He was totally disoriented to place and time, but wandered at all hours of the day and night. The local cops came to know him well. This family is familiar too. Eileen grew up in an alcoholic/dysfunctional family and was forced to mature quickly. But she turned into a much more shallow person, interested in "moving up" more than anything, and then goes into deep denial when she learns Ed's diagnosis. You might think, as a nurse, she'd know what this diagnosis means and the financial devastation it can bring. Instead she reacts by buying an expensive house "as is", which needs a lot of work. When she does not feel accepted by her more affluent neighbors, she buys herself a mink coat. As Ed's condition gets worse, she continues to leave him alone during the day or in the care of her teenage son who is quickly overwhelmed with the tremendous responsibility.
I find this to be totally true to life, yet depressing as Ed gets worse and worse. Like a train wreck, you don't want to look at it but can't help doing so. But stick with it and you will recognize many people you know. Perhaps even yourself. ( )
  translynx | Aug 5, 2018 |
Damn An epic debut novel details the life of Eileen Leary--from her childhood living with her parents and a boarder, to her marriage and life with her family. Eileen dreams of marrying a man who will be able to provide all the things she couldn't have as a child: their own house (her father threatens to haunt them from his grave if they don't have one), more luxuries, a more prestigious position than her father held, etc.
Eileen thinks she has met the perfect man who will provide that in Ed. They marry, and soon Eileen finds that Ed is not the climber she thought he might be. They eventually have a later-in-life child and the rest of the book follows their family life together, including the death of a main character, whose slow decline is hinted at and takes up much of the narrative for most of the book.
It's a novel that really inches along in some ways, as it's recalling the life (or most of the life) of a character, so there's no conflict (not really) to resolve. Originally I thought the book took place earlier, as in the 1970's, but it's actually the story of a baby boomer and follows that generation (for all its joys and sorrows and changes, much, if not all, is relevant to the present day).
It is the story of a woman, the story of a family, of a marriage, and some of the surrounding characters. While just about all the main characters need to be slapped upside the head here or there throughout the book, Thomas does an excellent job in keeping the reader interested. He easily flows between the three main people of this story, relating how all of their concerns are ones that are the same for many today. Even though main character Eileen can be rather unlikeable (with occasional racist and xenophobic thoughts, perhaps questionable judgment with a character who may or not be able to consent [Eileen thinks about whether he knows what he's doing], etc.) the reader still can't help but wonder to what she'll have to do next to help her husband cope.
There is much that is quite relevant for discussion and may be painful for those who are in similar situations like the Leary family. Issues like long term medical care, how to afford college tuition, the uncertainty of the economy, dealing with change that comes via immigration and general societal changes, what it's like being faced with a parent who is clearly on the decline (when normally the parent would be in middle age and perhaps preparing for retirement). Thomas does not flinch away from these issues, although he does not belabor them either.
An excellent, and long read. Perfect for a long flight or wait time. But be warned, it is definitely not a very happy book. The decline of one of the characters is laid out in great detail and has further consequences for another right through to the very end of the book. It's Thomas' first novel and I look forward to his next work. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
This review of WE ARE NOT OURSELVES is a test of my writing skill: how can I speak highly enough about this book? It’s not a mystery/thriller, usually the genre that can be riveting, yet I was stuck on this book. I even skipped dinner for it and read late into the night.

But this is not a feel-good book, either. From about the halfway point, every page is emotional. You won’t want to rush through a single one.

Yes, you can say that WE ARE NOT OURSELVES is about an Irish-American woman from the time she was a little girl. The book begins by painting the background of Eileen. But I could not tell its purpose and was afraid, at first, that the entire book would be nothing but incidences about her life.

That type of book does not tell a story. Rather, it is a book of short stories connected by a character(s).

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES more than redeems itself as Eileen grows and begins her own family. You will see later how necessary is is that you know that background.

You will also see that WE ARE NOT OURSELVES is about much more than Eileen. She and her family face what so many families are confronted with. And no one does it perfectly.

I’m afraid to say more than that. To describe it further would take away from the anticipation you need to feel to appreciate WE ARE NOT OURSELVES as much as I do. So, please, don’t read any other reviews, not even the book flap. ( )
  techeditor | Nov 18, 2017 |
I am not usually stopped by depressing books, but I need something more escapist than this now. I got halfway through the audiobook (aka over 10 hours) and decided that the basic premises of the book (you can never fully financially plan for life, you can never know what your health will be, you can never know the kind of person you will become) were not what I needed at the moment. Thanks so much, January! Perhaps I will resume later.
  Abbey_Harlow | Oct 5, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
This is a book in which a hundred fast-moving pages feel like a lifetime and everything looks different in retrospect. As in the real world, the reader’s point of view must change as often as those of the characters...This is one of the frankest novels ever written about love between a caregiver and a person with a degenerative disease.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Aug 21, 2014)
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Darling, do you remember the man you married?  Touch me, remind me who I am.  —Stanley Kunitz
We are not ourselves
When nature, being oppressed, commands the mind
to suffer with the body.  —King Lear
To Joy
First words
His father was watching the line in the water.
"I take no pleasure in saying this, but from now on, it might be best to think of every day as the best day of the rest of your life."
"I will always know who you are," Ed said, kissing the top of his head. "I promise you that. Even if you think I don't know, even if I seem not to. I will always know who you are. You're my son. Don't you ever forget that."
Her profession had been becoming hers the whole time she she'd been looking away from it. The point wasn't always to do what you want.  The point was to do what you did and to do it well. She had worked hard for years, and if she had nothing to show for it but her house and her son's education, there was still the fact of its having happened, which no one could erase from the record of human lives, even if no one was was keeping one.
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