Friday, 23 April 2010

A Year in books 2010 - The Hour I First Believed

Wally Lamb tends to write big fat novels looking for the voice of America through characters on the edge of society and the impact they have on the people around them. In his first two books, we follow the life of an obese 40 year old (She's Come Undone) and the life of man and his paranoid schizophrenic twin brother (I Know This Much is True). Both books tend to expose you to the full roller coaster of emotions, with the cast of supporting characters helping stop the whole thing drifting into made for tv melodrama. His books tend to feature everyman characters, the kind that serve Richards Russo and Ford so well.

With his this book, "The Hour I First Believed", he has upped the ambition and had a go at the great american novel. We follow flawed Caelum Quirk as he has to deal with the aftermath of his wife surviving the Columbine massacre. To aid recovery they move back to the farm Caelum grew up in. We soon through Caelum's exploration of his family's history and secrets learn how the civil war, Koreaand slavery are themes that are repeated through the big events of today , 9/11, the war in Iraq and hurricane Katrina. I did say it was ambitious and sometimes it does over-reach. The link into Iraq and Katrina feel a bit contrived and the ending's spiritual nature grates a bit. Having said that he does balance beautifully the epic and personal. The mixture of fact and fiction is especially well done in the first half of the book with the events around Columbine. In fact at times it does feel like two books the first around Columbine and the second when Caelum is on the farm, an exploration of family history and the joins aren't always neat. Having said that maybe this lack of neatness only reflects that in reality history itself is never neat and tidy or black and white.

Strangely although I didn't enjoy this as much as his first two books which are both great and having almost stopped reading it numerous times, mentally thinking that I didn't care for the characters, I was immensely moved by the ending and had to do the old there is something in my eye trick as I was on the train when I finished it

You can buy "The Hour I First Believed" here

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