Caelum Quirk has the worst luck. His third marriage is failing (his wife Maureen cheated on him), he has anger management issues (large enough that he takes a wrench to attack the man his wife cheated with), his father was an alcoholic… But Caelum and Maureen agree to work on their marriage. They move to Littleton, Colorado for a fresh start, both get jobs teaching at the local high school, Columbine High School. Things seem to be working out for them, until Caelum is called back home to deal with the death of his Aunt Lolly, his closest and last-living relative. While he is home, the infamous Columbine happens. Maureen is traumatized. In an attempt to help Maureen recover from the trauma, the couple moves back to Caelum’s childhood home, a farm house next to a women’s correctional facility that his great-grandmother founded. But Caelum finds that there is more than just his wife’s post traumatic stress disorder to deal with; he discovers many secrets in his past, through which Caelum finally reconnects with Maureen and come to terms with himself as well.
Wally Lamb infuses The Hour I First Believed with rich description, using small details to bring his scenes to life and make his characters believable and compelling. Lamb’s prose smoothly weaves together the true life events with the fictional world, keeping you in the moment and allowing you to experience Caelum’s life alongside him. The beginning and ending were particularly strong, pulling you into the story quickly from the start and finishing by tying together all the pieces for a satisfying ending. (Lamb currently teaches a writing workshop at a women’s correctional facility and it is clear from this book that he cares greatly for them.)
While Lamb’s characters are each relatable and clear, the story loses itself for a while and it seems to be a third person narrative following Maureen instead of a first person narrative from Caelum’s perspective. Lamb attempts too much with his story, taking on a few too many plots so that the story loses momentum and reads slowly for a few hundred pages. Too much happens to Caelum during his journey to self discovery, too many tragedies are touched upon, which causes parts of The Hour I First Believe to feel over the top instead of sympathetic.
If you haven’t read Wally Lamb before, I recommend picking up one of his other books (I Know This Much Is True is the best in my opinion but She’s Come Undone isn’t too bad either) to start since they are much stronger and more powerful.
Read Wally Lamb’s books today:
- The Hour I First Believed: A Novel (P.S.)
- She’s Come Undone (Oprah’s Book Club)
- I Know This Much Is True: A Novel (P.S.)
- Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters)
- I’ll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison (P.S.)