The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this story within a story, within a story, Wally Lamb encompasses a number of this country's tragedies from the last decade, then reaches back to the Civil War, suffrage and the formation of women's prisons to weave a tale that is richly told.
Focussing on the lives of teacher Caelum Quirk and his 'three strikes' wife Maureen, a school nurse, Lamb tells the story of a couple struggling to make their marriage work, after finally realizing that they truly do love, need and want each other, in the midst of chaos and tragedy.
Maureen, working at Columbine on the day of the shooting, was in the library hiding in a cupboard. One of the 'collaterally damaged' she struggles with acute PTSD that slowly slides into chronic PTSD. Caelum, who was on his family farm dealing with the aftermath of his Aunt Lolly's death, the aunt who helped raise him, was gone from school that day and is left wondering how everything might be different if he'd been at school that day.
Selling their home in Colorado, they move back to his family home in Connecticut where he discovers old letters and documentation about his ancestors and the Women's prison his great, great, great grandmother founded, along with family secrets, history and lore.
A story of self-discovery, intertwined with mythology and faith and rich with history, this is one story that won't let you down on a research level. i won't go into the particulars of the story, so as not to contain spoilers.
The one criticism I have, and it was discussed at book club, was that it seemed like SO much happened in the book; he was personally involved with people from Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War...but that's understandable from the story-telling standpoint because those sub-plots were illustrative of how much things have and have not changed all at once. From the Civil War to Iraq, everyone struggles with their belief system, and how they're going to apply it.
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