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April 20, 2009

The Hour I first Believed by Wally Lamb

When I was in high school, I read a book called She’s Come Undone, written by Wally Lamb. My creative writing teacher, Ms. McGinn, had recommended that I read it; she had a feeling I would really enjoy it. As with everything else she had recommended to me that year, Ms. McGinn was bang-on: She’s Come Undone was exactly the right book for me at exactly the right time of my life, and thus began my now decade-long, (totally one-sided) love affair with Wally Lamb. After She’s Come Undone came I Know This Much is True, and two non-fiction short essay collections written by women in prison: Couldn’t Keep it to Myself and I’ll Fly Away. Now there is a fifth piece of brilliance to add to this collection, and in my humble opinion, it is the BEST thing Wally Lamb has ever written: The Hour I First Believed. (A strong statement coming from me, trust me on that one!)

The Hour I first Believed is the story of Caelum Quirk and his third wife Maureen (Mo), who both work at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado – yes, that Columbine High School. This clever first-person narrative is an exploration of the different ways we can be affected by a traumatic event; essentially, it becomes clear that escaping death without physical harm is not the same thing as escaping unscathed. Caelum’s (often futile) attempts to deal with Columbine and Mo lead him back through his own history and life, and he discovers there is a lot about himself he doesn’t know.

In order to escape the nightmare of Littleton, Caelum and Mo pack up and move to Caelum’s family land in Three Rivers; Caelum’s aunt has just passed away, and Caelum now has control of the family farm. Returning home is supposed to provide Mo with a chance to work on her Columbine-demons, but instead, it opens a Pandora’s Box of unanswered questions about Caelum’s past, leaving Caelum confused, disconcerted and unsure of who he really is. The discovery of a cache of old letters and diaries from generations past throw’s Caelum’s world into a tailspin, and takes the reader on a fascinating journey through history. Wonderfully weird characters abound in this book, and Lamb fans will also be glad to see the return of Dr. Patel, along with a brief resurfacing of the Birdsey twins.

This book might start with Columbine, and it might be something of a running theme throughout, but this is not a “Columbine Book.” ¬†True to Wally Lamb’s famous form, this book starts in one place, and winds up somewhere completely different, and yet at the same time, exactly where it began. The Hour I First Believed is an emotionally raw, introspective, psychological adventure that will leave your heart racing (and breaking) along with Caelum and Mo, and will leave you breathless with anticipation page after page until the very last word.

With this third novel, Wally Lamb has done it again – bulls’ eye, no doubt about it. He is one of the very, very, VERY few authors out there who have managed to create absolute perfection more than once. Don’t be afraid to pick up this admittedly long book – the time will fly by, I promise. The only thing about this book that was disappointing? When I got to the end, and realized it was finished. I will miss the Quirks dearly, and once again, wait eagerly for Wally Lamb’s next batch of genius to emerge. Don’t keep us waiting too long!

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1 Comment(s)

  1. RSEV | Jun 29, 2011 | Reply

    Reading it now – it is awesome. I too am a fan of Lamb. I noticed in your list of his works that you did not include “Wishin’ and Hopin'”. Not Lamb’s usual heavy stuff; it’s hilarious! Do yourself a favor and read it!

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