Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on The Hour I First Believed or
here for Myra Junyk's review.
Anxiously awaiting Wally Lambís new book ever since Sheís Come Undone, I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of The Hour I First Believed. To the reader, Wally Lamb writes,
ďI had the title before I had Caelum Quirkís story, and that title served as the carrot before the horse, me being the horse. What would Caelum come to believe, and at what hour would it happen? It took me nine years to find out.Ē
With that, also not knowing what the book was about, I began to read the more than 700 pages written by this brilliant storyteller to find out for myself what this main character first believed.
The story captured me right away as I began to follow Caelum Quirk, a forty-seven-year-old high school teacher, and Maureen, his young wife and a school nurse. A teacher myself and remembering the tragedy at Columbine High School vividly, I was drawn in immediately to this story in Littleton, Colorado.
Both Caelum and Maureen work at Columbine, but in April 1999, Caelum is called home to his dying aunt who lives in Connecticut. While he is there, his aunt dies and the funeral is being planned when the shootings take place at Columbine. Caelum is frantic - he canít get in touch with Maureen and can only watch on television as he sees many he knows fleeing the buildings. He gets on the first available flight back, all the way not knowing what has happened to his wife.
Maureen, meeting with a student she has taken under her wing, is in the library when all the shooting begins. Maureen tucks herself in a cabinet, listening to the two students as they carefully go about their massacre in that library, waiting at any moment to be found and killed herself. She is found after the attack by officials removing all survivors; reunited with Caelum, she begins her battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Maureenís struggle with this condition gives the reader a real inside look at how devastating this is not only to the sufferer but to the people around them - in this case, Caelum. Caelum and Maureen decide to leave Colorado to return to his home and the farm he inherited from his aunt in Connecticut.
Caelum discovers letters, papers, and diaries that seize his interest as he pieces together his ancestorsí story over five generations, finding out about many long-buried family secrets and more about his own disturbed childhood. While Caelum struggles with this, Maureen keeps trying to find her way back from her own terror.
About two-thirds of the way through the book, Lamb somewhat lost me. I was reading two stories, one within another, but couldnít get them to connect in some way. While the well-researched story of Caelumís family is presented in an interesting style often through the primary documents, it didnít hold my interest like Maureen and Caelumís did. I wanted to get back to Maureen dealing with her disorder and how the couple was going to ever get their lives back.
The thread following Caelumís family relates back to the horrific event at Columbine with hatred, wars, and violence, but itís hard to make the connection while reading the book. I thought about it quite a bit upon finishing the story and at that point understood where the story was going. I wanted to love Wally Lambís new book as much as my beloved Sheís Come Undone, but I didnít. After realizing that it wasnít going to happen, however, the last part of the book drew me back in and I finished it as a satisfied reader.
The Hour I First Believed has generated much discussion by its readers, and that is also the sign of a great author. Perhaps, had I known a little more about the two stories actually relating more, I would have been more patient while reading it. Potential readers are highly recommended to take on the challenge but keep this in mind about blending the two stories. Harken back to Wally Lambís first words to the reader about how he had the title first, and wondered what Caelum would come to believe and when it would happen. Perhaps Lamb wants us to figure that out for ourselves in relation to the story: after finishing The Hour I First Believed, what did you come to understand from the story, and when did that happen?