Book Club: The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Knitting Clio appears to be turning into a slow blog, but I finally have come up with something to post.  This month’s book club selection was Wally Lamb’s latest novel, The Hour I First Believed.   It was a good thing we had Thanksgiving break to read this, because this is one very long book.  Lamb’s writing is engaging as always and I found the central story about Caelum and Maureen Quirk, who are trying to rebuild their lives after Maureen survives spending hours in a cabinet during the horrific shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.

One book club member, who is a social worker, found Lamb’s description of post-traumatic stress — which affects multiple characters — to be very well done and moving.  Another commented on the Lamb’s description of chaos theory in the novel and how he draws in the various catastrophic events of the past decade to make commentary on life in twenty-first century America.   Caeleb spends much of the novel tracing his family history, which intersects with local Connecticut history (Mark Twain makes a brief appearance), as well as women’s role in prison reform for female prisoners and other social justice movements.

As a women’s historian, I found the historical material  to be fascinating. I also liked the feminist grad student/Katrina refugee that helps Quirk make sense of all the letters and diaries left in the attic.

One book club member absolutely hated the novel, saying that while Lamb’s writing is excellent, there is just one damn thing after another crammed into the novel. She also thinks Lamb is just showing off.  She was especially annoyed with the ending which I won’t give away here.

I would agree that there is too much going on in the novel.  This easily could have been two books — I would like to see the story of the women’s prison expanded into a longer separate treatment.  Still, I would recommend this to those who like Lamb’s other books.

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