The Hour I First Believed
Wally Lamb
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Buy *The Hour I First Believed* by Wally Lamb online

The Hour I First Believed
Wally Lamb
768 pages
August 2009
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on The Hour I First Believed or here for Karen D. Haney's review.

“But I don’t know, I’m just one more chaos theorist, as lost in the maze as everyone else.” (p. 3)
Caelum Quirk, the narrator of The Hour I First Believed, is living a nightmare. He is a teacher at Columbine High School who has gone home to Connecticut bury his Aunt Lolly. His wife, Maureen, the nurse at the school, ends up in the library during the killing spree of April 1999. She saves herself by hiding in a cupboard but is haunted by horrifying memories. Suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, Maureen becomes a recluse, and Caelum must somehow carry on with daily life.

They move to Caelum’s Connecticut farm to escape their memories of the Columbine shootings, but even traveling across the country cannot solve Maureen’s problems. Her therapist, Dr. Patel, helps her to start working as a nurse again, but she starts taking drugs to deal with her ever-present anxiety. In a terrible twist of fate, Maureen accidentally kills a troubled teen while driving home under the influence of drugs. She is sent to jail while her husband is left to cope with yet another loss. Caelum takes on boarders at the farm, and two refugees from Hurricane Katrina and Velvet, one of his former Columbine students, become his ragtag “family.” They inspire Caelum to start exploring his complex family history and to come to terms with the realities of his life:

“The seeker embarks on a journey to find what he wants and discovers, along the way, what he needs.” (p. 466)
The unusual narrative style of this novel mixes Caelum’s first-person narration with emails, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, diary entries and letters. Although this book is fiction, actual historical figures populate the narrative. His great-grandmother’s crusade for humane prisons leads her to meet some very interesting historical figures: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Samuel Clemens and Nicola Tesla. Caelum and Maureen both work at Columbine High School at the beginning of the novel. They have unique insight into the tragedy since they know all the victims as well as the killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Caelum provides the first-person narration, but the diary entries and letters written by his great-grandmother reveal his complicated family history, which is full of unresolved conflicts and shocking secrets.

Maureen deals with her trauma by totally retreating from society, relating her horrific Columbine experiences with the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. Together, the two traumatic events paralyze her. Maureen serves her jail time in the Quirk Correctional Institution, which Caelum’s great-grandmother fought for and his grandmother ran. Her treatment in this institution is a commentary on the nature of crime and punishment.

Wally Lamb, the bestselling author of She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, portrays Caelum, the major character in this novel, as an individual with many unresolved conflicts. He is neither sympathetic hero nor villainous anti-hero. Readers may not feel a kinship with his seemingly endless suffering, but they will relate to the events of his life. In a sense, horrific events such as the Columbine shootings and Hurricane Katrina have changed all our lives, created a constant state of perceived chaos which is now the status quo. What terrible thing will happen next? Ironically, Caelum teaches a course called “The Quest in Literature” which mirrors his own quest for self-discovery in a time of chaos and instability.

“I don’t know, maybe we’re all chaos theorists. Lovers of pattern and predictability, we’re scared shitless of explosive change. But we’re fascinated by it, too. Drawn to it.” (p. 306)
Likewise will readers be drawn to Lamb’s complex yet fascinating book.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Myra Junyk, 2010

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