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The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

The Hour I First Believed (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Wally Lamb

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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.
Title:The Hour I First Believed
Authors:Wally Lamb
Info:Harper (2008), Paperback
Collections:Your library

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The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (2008)


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When high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, while Caelum is away, Maureen finds herself in the library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed. Miraculously, she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. When Caelum and Maureen flee to an illusion of safety on the Quirk family's Connecticut farm, they discover that the effects of chaos are not easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.
  Gmomaj | Feb 16, 2020 |
This is one whopper of a book – 700+ pages – crammed with more themes than a magician’s hat has rabbits: post-traumatic stress, chaos theory, classic mythology, physical and spiritual labyrinths, family history, blood sacrifice, substance abuse, what makes a marriage, the American penal system, race relations, the search for spiritual peace, a decades-old mystery, and the recurrent and inexplicable appearance of praying mantis images.

In less skilled hands, it would be a hot mess. It’s to Lamb’s credit that he manages to keep it all together and keep it readable, though at times when he pulls yet another rabbit out of the hat, the reader is hard-pressed to restrain a “what now?” groan.

Ultimately, by the end, the main character finds peace when he realizes that life, like a labyrinth, is “baffling on the ground [but] begins to make sense when you can begin to rise above it.”

It’s a big, chewy, thoughtful book with a lot to consider. Don’t expect to polish this one off over a weekend, and don’t expect to get its questions out of your mind quickly. ( )
  LyndaInOregon | Sep 4, 2019 |
I'm so torn about this book. I loved that Wally Lamb addressed some tough issues like the Columbine tragedy, alcoholism, incarceration, etc...but, at times, I was completely bored and wondering 'where is this going?' I honestly could have done without the flashbacks to the 1800's. I'm a historical fiction lover, but these vignettes served no purpose to the story line as far as I'm concerned. If I'm going to rate this book on everything but the flashbacks, I'd say it was an average read. I'm glad I stuck it out, but even happier to move onto something else now.... ( )
1 vote loveleelisa | Jan 5, 2019 |
Slightly long-winded, which I've come to expect from Wally Lamb.... yet there's not a bit that could be left out! Lamb does not disappoint! Great story!!! ( )
  trayceetee | Dec 23, 2018 |
This was really well done. It was difficult to put down, 700 pages or not. I appreciated the use of factual information dispersed throughout a fictional novel. I also really enjoyed Lamb's reference to I Know This Much is True. It was well blended into the context of this story, and it was one of those that if you hadn't read the other book you wouldn't pick it up, but for those of us that did it was nice to see. The ending was somewhat to0 clean cut for me, but given all of the interspersed story arcs I see why it was ended the way it did. ( )
  Melissalovesreading | Sep 30, 2018 |
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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
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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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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