In the nine years since Wally Lamb last presented us with a work of fiction, our nation has been witness to several events that have rocked us as a whole, as well as severely changed the course of so many individual lives. A wave of unexplainable school shootings, including Columbine. September 11, 2001 and the war in Iraq. Hurricane Katrina. In the novel The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb meshes together some of these real-world events into a fictional narrative that at once reaches out to our own collective memories of these experiences as well as narrows our focus to a cast of characters struggling to recover from their own involvement.
Coming in at over 700 pages, the book is divided into two parts, which are distinctly different in their scope and focus. While the first section tackles the incredibly difficult and painful topic of the April 1999 Columbine High shootings and the personal impact that day had on the main character Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen, the second part both moves the story for these individuals forward 9 years as well as in reverse over several generations of Caelum’s ancestors through newly found family memorabilia. The resulting story is a reflection on the difficult paths life can take, and the journey to find one’s way.
I have to admit that I am a huge fan of Wally Lamb’s two previous novels, and I am most definitely the type of reader who seeks out the types of characters that he is simply so good at creating- rife with flaws, questioning faith, searching for meaning in their complicated and oftentimes unfulfilling lives. Yes, this novel is long and hugely encompassing in both time and place, and yes, the drama level is high for these characters. But isn’t that the point? Life is not a simple story, and neither is this novel. It’s not a straight-line kind of story. I envision it as more of a series of interconnected and radiating circles, emanating out from the main characters, as well as from the other characters that we have the good fortune to meet in depth and in passing. I even dare say that we readers are encouraged to add our own circles to the narrative. By placing those major real-life events in the context of these characters, we are invited to also reflect on how they have affected our own lives, our own choices, our own connections to those in our pasts and our presents, and ultimately in our own unknown futures.
An enduring discussion question lies in the title of the book, The Hour I First Believed, and it is my opinion that individual readers will find themselves drawing different conclusions as to exactly what Caelum ultimately believes. I invite readers to make the commitment to these 700+ pages, as the journey is an intense and thought-provoking one, and the characters are deeply engaging. My only hope is that I will not find myself waiting another nine years for Mr. Lamb’s next offering.
Wally Lamb’s new novel most definitely qualifies for inclusion on our list of 5 Star Reads.
Dawn blogs at my thoughts exactly while keeping up with three wacky kids.