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The Hour I First Believed (2008)

by Wally Lamb

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,5831692,921 (3.78)183
Relocating to a family farm in Connecticut after surviving the Columbine school shootings, Caelum and Maureen discover a cache of family memorabilia dating back five generations, which reveals to Caelum unexpected truths about painful past events.
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English (165)  French (2)  German (1)  All languages (168)
Showing 1-5 of 165 (next | show all)
Weighing in at 750 pages, I knew this book would have a Dickensian quality to it, with subplots emerging as the tale progressed. The main story is painful and wonderfully done. Once Lamb begins to commingle the main character's ancestry with the story, however, the book begins to meander from taut to sprawling.

For an epic that tries to weave the Columbine shootings, Hurricane Katrina, Civil War times, and generations of family history into one tale, I'd give Lamb an "A" for effort, and perhaps a "B" for execution.

As I told my wife, "You'd love the journey back to the secrets of his family's past, but hate the current day Columbine stuff". I was just the opposite - more interested in the aftermath of today's tragedies than unearthed familial history from generations before. So, on one hand, there's something for everyone; on the other, you might feel you're reading more stories than you bargained for.

Lamb, though, is a terrific writer, and I felt as swept away by his narrative and characters as I have by my favorite current writer, TC Boyle. So, I do recommend this book - just prepare yourself for Lamb's desire to throw every historical moment since slavery into the tale at some point. ( )
  TommyHousworth | Feb 5, 2022 |
This is a hauntingly beautiful story: tragic, but hopeful. I appreciated the far-reaching narrative and was hooked by the rich and fallible characters. ( )
  mbellucci | Apr 10, 2021 |
I didn't like the main character, and the story was all over the place. It incorporated random events such as the Columbine shootings, mythology, various war/s, racism, drug abuse, hurricane Katrina, prison reform to name a few. Yet somehow I couldn't stop reading because I was interested to find out what happened next. I suspect that this is one of those books I will think about now and again for years to come. Well played. ( )
  curious_squid | Apr 5, 2021 |
Incredibly, relentlessly grim — tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy, almost to the point of comedy, the sickest of jokes. Allow me to present a list of only some of the terrible things that these people do/have done to them/live through (SPOILERS): adultery, aggravated assault, the Columbine shootings, post-traumatic stress disorder, death in the family, forced prostitution, Hurricane Katrina, more adultery, drug addiction, vehicular homicide, prison, sexual assault, war, miscarriage, death of a spouse, suicide, dead babies in a suitcase aaaaaaggghhh I can’t take any more. Can’t these people catch a break?! It just piles up and up. And then? The worst part? The last twenty pages turn on a dime and everything starts looking up! Seven hundred pages of grinding, ceaseless misery, and suddenly people are laughing, joking, getting married, having babies, coming to terms with things. An unsatisfying and unpleasantly jarring end.

I do not like writing bad reviews, but after reading and very much enjoying two of Lamb's other novels, this one was a disappointment. ( )
  captainsunbeam | Oct 16, 2020 |
Characters not interesting enough to continue past the first 2/20 discs in the audiobook. ( )
  Okies | Sep 3, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 165 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wally Lambprimary authorall editionscalculated
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
And so, they moved over the dark waves, and even before they disembarked, new hordes gathered there. — Dante's Inferno, canto 3, lines 118-120
Dedication
For Anna —

A series of debilitating strokes and the onset of dementia necessitated the agonizing conversation I had with my mother in the winter of 1997. When I told her she'd be moving to a nearby nursing home, she shook her head and, atypically, began to cry. Tears were a rarity for my stoic Sicilian-American mother. The next day, she offered me a deal. "Okay, I'll go," she said. "But my refrigerator comes with me." I couldn't meet her demand, but I understood it.

Ma's refrigerator defined her. The freezer was stockpiled with half-gallons of ice cream for the grandkids, and I do mean stockpiled; you opened that freezer compartment at your peril, hoping those dozen or so rock-hard bricks, precariously stacked, wouldn't tumble forth and give you a concussion. The bottom half of Ma's "icebox" was a gleaming tribute to aluminum--enough foil-wrapped Italian food to feed, should we all show up unexpectedly at once, her own family and the extended families of her ten siblings. But it was the outside of Ma's fridge that best spoke of who she was. The front and sides were papered with greeting cards, holy pictures, and photos, old and new, curling and faded, of all the people she knew and loved. Children were disproportionately represented in her refrigerator photo gallery. She adored kids—her own and everyone else's. My mother was a woman of strong faith, quiet resolve, and easy and frequent laughter.

This story's been a hard one to write, Ma, and it got harder after you left us. But I had the title from the very beginning, and when I reached the end, I realized I'd written it for you.

(P.S. Sorry about all those four-letter words, Ma. That's the characters speaking. Not me.)
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They were both working their final shift at Blackjack Pizza that night, although nobody but the two of them realized it was that.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Relocating to a family farm in Connecticut after surviving the Columbine school shootings, Caelum and Maureen discover a cache of family memorabilia dating back five generations, which reveals to Caelum unexpected truths about painful past events.

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Book description
The Hour I First Believed travels well beyond his earlier work and embodies in his fiction myth, psychology, family history stretching back many generations, and the questions of faith that lie at the heart of everyday life. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, at once a meditation on the human condition and an unflinching yet compassionate evocation of character. When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues. While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newpaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorul and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface. (978-0-06-039349-6)
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