Lamb’s third novel tackles the Columbine high school shooting head on as he places his fictional protagonists into the horrific events of April 1999. Caelum and his wife, Maureen, move to Colorado for teaching jobs at Columbine not long before the shootings. As the events unfold, Maureen finds herself in harms way but luckily survives, only to be haunted by the occurrence. Narrator George Guidall reads with an earnest, familiar voice. He draws listeners into this fascinating tale with nothing more than raw emotion and honesty; rarely does such a straightforward performance tap into the human psyche so effectively. A HarperCollins hardcover. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Hour I First Believedby Wally Lamb
Wally Lamb's two previous novels, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, struck a chord with readers. They responded to the intensely introspective nature of the books, and to their lively narrative styles and biting humor. One critic called Wally Lamb a "modern-day Dostoyevsky," whose characters struggle not only with their respective pasts,/i>/i>… See more details below
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Wally Lamb's two previous novels, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, struck a chord with readers. They responded to the intensely introspective nature of the books, and to their lively narrative styles and biting humor. One critic called Wally Lamb a "modern-day Dostoyevsky," whose characters struggle not only with their respective pasts, but with a "mocking, sadistic God" in whom they don't believe but to whom they turn, nevertheless, in times of trouble (New York Times).
In The Hour I First Believed, Lamb travels well beyond his earlier work and embodies in his fiction myth, psychology, family history stretching back many generations, and the questions of faith that lie at the heart of everyday life. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, at once a meditation on the human condition and an unflinching yet compassionate evocation of character.
When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.
While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.
As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary -- and American.
The Hour I First Believed is a profound and heart-rending work of fiction. Wally Lamb proves himself a virtuoso storyteller, assembling a variety of voices and an ensemble of characters rich enough to evoke all of humanity.
Could I have acted as courageously as teacher Dave Sanders, who sacrificed his life in the act of shepherding students to safety? Would I have had the strength to attend those memorials and funerals to which I sent my protagonist?
Delving into the enigma of the killers' motives, he points to the challenge that a novelistic treatment of the tragedy entailed:
The depth and scope of Harris and Klebold's rage, and the twisted logic by which they convinced themselves that their slaughter of the innocent was justified, both frightened and confounded me. I felt it necessary to confront the "two-headed monster" itself, rather than concoct Harris- and Klebold-like characters. Were these middle-class kids merely sick, or were they evil?....Why all this rage? Why all these deaths and broken-hearted survivors?
Lamb asks worthy questions. Unfortunately for readers, he appears to have grown frustrated by his inability to answer them, because this 723-page book, which starts off with its focus on Columbine, devolves into a loose, baggy social-historical novel that spans two centuries and somehow manages to address at length such disparate issues as the Civil War, the advent of women's prisons in America, Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq War. The specters of Harris and Klebold, so stark and affecting in the early pages of this book, recede with every tangential plotline.
The tenuous thread tying this all together is middle-aged English teacher Caelum Quirk, a thrice-married Connecticut native whose gravestone should probably read, "Romeo has nothing on me. Here lies fortune's foe." Example: His alcoholic father died when Caelum was 14, because the old man was fishing on a railroad bridge, passed out drunk, got hit by train, lost both legs, and bled to death.
As in Lamb's two previous novels, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, messy, star-crossed lives are the norm, not the exception. We first meet Caelum and his third wife, Maureen, after their relocation from Connecticut to Littleton, where Caelum is an English teacher at Columbine and Maureen is a school nurse. Back in Connecticut, their marriage had been foundering. Maureen had cheated on Caelum, and he got revenge by attacking his wife's lover; in turn, Caelum lost his teaching job. Hoping to revive their marriage (and to escape the gossip of small-town Three Rivers), he and Maureen move to Littleton. Why there? Because Maureen wants to be close to her father, who's remarried and lives in Denver -- and who, after Maureen's mother died, used to sneak into his 11-year-old daughter's room and masturbate before her.
This is among the first of many confounding plot developments in this novel -- twists that complicate the narrative but ultimately distort to little purpose and generate no sympathy for the characters.
Much of that complication arises in the retrospective unfolding of Caelum and Maureen's lives back in Connecticut, where they resided on the Quirk family farm, a 200-acre tract that also contains a 50-acre maximum-security women's prison. The story behind the prison (not to mention its convenient location, right down the road from the family's house) will play an enormous, exasperating role in the second half of the novel. The Quick Correctional Institute -- named in honor of Caelum's reform-minded female ancestors -- is also the workplace of Caelum's beloved aunt, Lolly, last in a line of family members who worked at the prison. With his mother dead of cancer and his childhood memories in the shadow of a withholding family overall, Lolly is the only relation who hasn't contributed to Caelum's jaded personality. In the beginning of The Hour I First Believed, the protagonist certainly doesn't believe in much, least of all God.
In April 1999, these plot threads intersect: Lolly suffers a stroke, so Caelum returns to Connecticut to take care of her. While he's gone, Harris and Klebold go on their rage-fueled rampage.
They'd been planning it for a year, hiding their intentions in plain sight on paper, on videotape, over the Internet. In their junior year, one had written in the other's yearbook, "God, I can't wait till they die. I can taste the blood now." And the other had answered, "Killing enemies, blowing up stuff, killing cops! My wrath will be godlike!"
When the attack starts, Maureen is in the library, the site of the worst carnage. As Harris and Klebold mock and antagonize their victims, asking them if they believe in God, Maureen hides in a cabinet. Caelum, back in Connecticut and watching the harrowing footage on television, has no idea if she's alive or dead, so he races back to Colorado.
Maureen survives the library scene, but she's a shell of her former self. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She can't sleep and has headaches and nausea. Certain smells and loud noises trigger flashbacks. On a trip to Home Depot, the scent of the lumber department reminds her of the inside of the library cabinet, where she'd hid and prayed. "Afraid," she says. "I'm always afraid." She becomes addicted to medication, while Caelum starts drinking more than usual.
Back in Connecticut, Lolly dies, and the farm with its tangled legal situation passes to Caelum. He decides that the safety of the estate -- far away from Littleton and everything Columbine-related -- is the best thing for his wife. Regrettably, the move does nothing for the momentum of this novel, which soon sinks beneath rediscovered family letters and diaries (many of them included in the book); uninteresting questions about Caelum's actual parents; and schmaltzy plot developments, e.g., a husband and wife, refugees from Hurricane Katrina, come to live on the farm, and the wife, a postgraduate women's studies major at Tulane, writes her master's thesis on Caelum's ancestors, in turn helping Caelum understand his past and (perhaps) himself.
In the dedication to his mother that prefaces the novel, Lamb says he had the title, The Hour I First Believed, "from the very beginning." The phrase is also the very last line of the book. In retrospect, that makes sense, because this novel doesn't read like it was a process of discovery. It reads like someone working backward (and the long way round) from a foregone conclusion. --Cameron Martin
From 1996 to 2007, Cameron Martin was an award-winning feature writer, columnist, and book reviewer with the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate newspapers in Connecticut. He now freelances for Comcast SportsNet New England (covering the Red Sox) and for BugsandCranks.com, a web site dedicated to the lighter side of Major League Baseball. His short story "Once in Cassiopeia" -- about a woman who kills Osama bin Laden -- was published in the fall issue of Doublethink magazine.
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The Hour I First Believed
By Wally Lamb
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One They were both working their final shift at Blackjack Pizza that night, although nobody but the two of them realized it was that. Give them this much: they were talented secret-keepers. Patient planners. They'd been planning it for a year, hiding their intentions in plain sight on paper, on videotape, over the Internet. In their junior year, one had written in the other's yearbook, "God, I can't wait till they die. I can taste the blood now." And the other had answered, "Killing enemies, blowing up stuff, killing cops! My wrath will be godlike!"
My wrath will be godlike: maybe that's a clue. Maybe their ability to dupe everyone was their justification. If we could be fooled, then we were all fools; they were, therefore, superior, chaos theirs to inflict. But I don't know. I'm just one more chaos theorist, as lost in the maze as everyone else.
It was Friday, April 16, 1999, four days before they opened fire. I'd stayed after school for a parent conference and a union meeting and, in between, had called Maureen to tell her I'd pick up takeout. Blackjack Pizza was between school and home.
It was early still. The Friday-night pizza rush hadn't begun. He was at the register, elbows against the counter, talking to a girl in a hairdresser's smock. Or not talking, pretty much. There was a cell phone on the counter, and he kept tapping it with his index finger to make it spin-kept looking at the revolving cell phone instead of at the girl. I remember wondering if I'd just walked in on a lover's spat. "I better get back," the girl said. "See you tomorrow." Her smock said "Great Clips," which meant she worked at the salon next door-the place where Maureen went.
"Prom date?" I asked him. The big event was the next night at the Design Center in Denver. From there, the kids would head back to school for the all-night post-prom party, which I'd been tagged to help chaperone.
"I wouldn't go to that bogus prom," he said. He called over his shoulder. "How's his half-mushroom-half-meatball coming?" His cohort opened the oven door and peered in. Gave a thumbs-up.
"So tell me," I said. "You guys been having any more of your famous Blackjack flour wars?"
He gave me a half-smile. "You remember that?"
"Sure. Best piece you wrote all term."
He'd been in my junior English class the year before. A grade-conscious concrete sequential, he was the kind of kid who was more comfortable memorizing vocab definitions and lines from Shakespeare than doing the creative stuff. Still, his paper about the Blackjack Pizza staff's flour fights, which he'd shaped as a spoof on war, was the liveliest thing he'd written all term. I remember scrawling across his paper, "You should think about taking creative writing next year." And he had. He was in Rhonda Baxter's class. Rhonda didn't like him, though-said she found him condescending. She hated the way he rolled his eyes at other kids' comments. Rhonda and I shared a free hour, and we often compared notes about the kids. I neither liked nor disliked him, particularly. He'd asked me to write him a letter of recommendation once. Can't remember what for. What I do recall is sitting there, trying to think up something to say.
He rang up my sale. I handed him a twenty. "So what's next year looking like?" I asked. "You heard back from any of the schools you applied to?"
"I'm joining the Marines," he said.
"Yeah? Well, I heard they're looking for a few good men." He nodded, not smiling, and handed me my change.
His buddy ambled over to the counter, pizza box in hand. He'd lost the boyish look I remembered from his freshman year. Now he was a lanky, beak-nosed adult, his hair tied back in a sorry-looking ponytail, his chin as prominent as Jay Leno's. "So what's your game plan for next year?" I asked him.
"University of Arizona."
"Sounds good," I said. I gave a nod to the Red Sox cap he was wearing. "You follow the Sox?"
"Somewhat. I just traded for Garciaparra in my fantasy league."
"Good move," I said. "I used to go to Sox games all the time when I was in college. Boston University. Fenway was five minutes away."
"Cool," he said.
"Maybe this is their year, huh?"
"Maybe." He didn't sound like he gave a shit either way.
He was in Rhonda's creative writing class, too. She'd come into the staff room sputtering about him one day. "Read this," she said. "Is this sick or what?" He'd written a two-page story about a mysterious avenger in a metal-studded black trench coat. As jocks and "college preps" leave a busy bar, he pulls pistols and explosives out of his duffel bag, wastes them, and walks away, smiling. "Do you think I should call his parents?" Rhonda had asked.
I'd shrugged. "A lot of the guys write this kind of crap. Too many video games, too much testosterone. I wouldn't worry about it. He probably just needs a girlfriend." She had worried, though, enough to make that call. She'd referred to the meeting, a week or so later, as "a waste of time."
The door banged open; five or six rowdy kids entered Blackjack. "Hey, I'll see you later," I said.
"Later," he said. And I remember thinking he'd make a good Marine. Clean-cut, conscientious, his ironed T-shirt tucked neatly into his wrinkle-free shorts. Give him a few years, I figured, and he'd probably be officer material.
At dinner that night, Maureen suggested we go out to a movie, but I begged off, citing end-of-the-week exhaustion. She cleaned up, I fed the dogs, and we adjourned to our separate TVs. By ten o'clock, I was parked on my recliner, watching Homicide with the closed-caption activated, my belly full of pizza. There was a Newsweek opened on my lap for commercial breaks, a Pete's Wicked ale resting against my crotch, and a Van Morrison CD reverberating inside my skull: Astral Weeks, a record that had been released in 1968, the year I turned seventeen.
Excerpted from The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb Copyright © 2008 by Wally Lamb. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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This book is a testament to our past and future.
From Columbine, 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, the story relates the collateral damage done that no one acknowledges. An emotional but fulfilling read.
Don't miss it
Just as everyone else did, I excitedly awaited the arrival of this book. Wally Lamb had done it again...he's written a riveting story! The characters were very interesting. I loved how Caelum learned about his family history. It was all fascinating. My eyes were opened to the PTSD the Columbine survivors experience. Thank you, Mr. Lamb. Nothing else I read this year will be this well-written.
There are just not enough words to describe how emotional this book was for me. I read through my tears, hoped for the best and had to set it down every so often to let it all soak in. The Moment I First Believed is now at the top of my favorites list.
I could not wait for Lamb's new book. I was very dissappointed--I had to trudge through it. The main characters are not likeable at all. I never really felt for either of them, they are both extremely selfish. I perked up when I started reading about the other family ( with the divorced mom and 2 sons) but that part was too brief. I think Lamb's overall idea for a plot was good but this story is too long and too convoluted. I just kept asking myself " how much more can happen to these people?"
I do not recommend The Hour I First Believed. I found it a painful experience to finish the book. I did not develop any emotional ties to the characters and therefore could not identify with their experiences. The plot rambles on leaving the reader crying out for some type of ending. Normally a series of events in a book contain relevance because they connect to the other events in the book. Not so for this book. The inside cover compels the reader with its connection to the Columbine High School shootings, but that only serves to put one of the main characters into psychological turmoil and more plot. And the ending is disappointing and ambiguous. It's as if the author is trying too hard to make this a great book.
I love Wally Lamb but I thought this book was a mess. I had a hard time keeping Lolly, Lydia and Lillian straight - I mean give me a fighting chance man! I didn't like either of the main characters and found the whole thing laborious. It gives me no pleasure to say this because I think Lamb is an exceptional writer and She's Come Undone has a place of honor in my permanent library. This book just missed all the marks for me. Sorry Wally!
I am a HUGE fan of Wally Lamb but I was a little skeptical about purchasing this book after reading several negative reviews from readers. I finally caved in and literally could not put this book down. The Hour I First Believed is amazing! The characters are real, raw, and captivating. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is not offended by true human emotion. Excellent!!!
Wally Lamb has done it again. His book is a masterpiece. It held my interest throughout and kept me wanting more. Like the maze on the Quirk farm, the book takes you through many avenues and plotlines, but you will find yourself finally at the heart of the maze. I had tears in my eyes at the end of the book.
I could not put this book down. It was almost overwhelming. The events just keep rolling out in such a way that takes your breath away. It isn't that they are unbelievable. It is that they are reality. These circumstances could actually happen to real people and the fact that they all happened to one couple makes it sad, but poignant.
Lamb's style of writing is amazing. No other writer can capture me from the first page like he can. He pulls me in and wrings me out to dry by the end. Same thing happened in "She's Come Undone" and "I Know This Much is True". I only wish I did not have to wait so long in between novels, but if he wrote faster he would be on that "book-mill" circuit that has created all the other mindless, same story just change the names books that are out there.
Keep writing Wally - love it!
I loved Wally Lamb's other 2 books. This book not so much. This book was 700 + pages & should have ended at page 400. Once the book focuses on the main characters family history, i totally zoned out. I skipped pages & pages. It made no sense to me at all.
Like others, I raced to the bookstore to buy this book. Very disappointed! Hurricane Katrina, Iraq veteran, Columbine, Mark Twain, civil war, even the Coconut Grove fire all in one book! Too much! The basic idea was ok and would have been great if the it could have stuck to one or even possibly two of these ideas. About 250 fewer pages would have made this a better read. I had to force myself to finish it. He is too good to publish something this bad. Connie Mae Fowler did the dead baby discovery much better.
The character development in this book was ingrossing--As a women who has read many novels about women and their issues, it was refreshing to read s good and emotionally provacative book about a man's life journey and struggles. The setting of the Columbine High School tragedy was so well researched that you could forgot it was a novel as the author sliped his characters seamlessly into the actual events. I was totally engrossed in the development of the main protagonist and the ending was stunning. The writting was supurb and I have already begun to read another novel by Lamb--
I had already read, "I Know this Much is True" and "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb before reading "The Hour I First Believed". I absolutely LOVE the first two. In fact, I have read them each three times over the course of about three years (and I am not one to re-read books no matter how much I enjoy them). I also don't keep books after I've read them, but I will NEVER part with these! They are like old friends I can turn to sitting right on my book shelf. I love the characters. I love the way Mr. Lamb grabs you from the very first sentence and holds on tight right to the end. Even after reading 900+ pages, I find myself wishing there were more! That being said, I then read "The Hour I First Believed". I was not impressed. I fell in love with a few of the characters, but there were too many characters and there was too much story to really get into the book. The beginning was great, as was the end, but the entire middle was quite boring. I was disappointed in this book after reading other two. I want to stress to everyone out there that has read this book, and because of it, will not read another Wally Lamb book, that you are missing out on his other incredible books. Please don't let your opinion of this book keep you from reading the others. They are truly fantastic. I constantly search for other writers similar to Wally Lamb until I can read another one of his masterpieces!
The book's main premise, the Columbine tragedy and it's aftermath, was excellent. However, the main character's family history went on ad nauseum. I literally skipped hundreds of pages that included diaries and letters from the Civil War era. I don't feel that I missed anything of any importance by skipping this drivel. This is a book that could definitely benefit from an abridged version.
In his introduction, Wally Lamb says this was a very difficult novel to write. Yes, and difficult to read--since it is about the fallout for one family from the Columbine rampage. But it is a book you cannot put down, just like his "I Know This Much Is True." It is the story of one man's journey from insidious emotional pain and cynicism to a belief in the possibility of hope. Like Lamb's previous novels, this one takes its title from a song lyric. Some readers may be put off by the religious implications of the title; in fact, religious redemption is impossible for this narrator, considering the terrible events that have shaped his life. So it's not about religious conversion, but about something we good cynics can all find: faith in the reality of hope and the ability to enjoy the good parts of life. Why should we read it, if it's so painful? Because we are all like Caelum Quirk, and to survive our constant bombardment from the gleeful disseminators of bad news, we need to find out how one man arrives at peace in spite of the evil in the world. I wouldn't have missed reading "The Hour I First Believed" for anything.
In the past Wally Lamb has written overall better novels. The Hour I First Believed was slow to start, the plot was predictable and the characters were cliche. While the concept of the novel was intriguing I would have cut out about 200 pages of dull repetitive writing.
Wally Lamb has a fluid writing style that's easy to follow. The characters are likeable but hard to grow attached to. The intertwining plot lines are far from realistic, but unpredictable and captivating nonetheless. It's packed full of references to real events/movies/songs etc. to help place a timeline. That may work to pull some readers in, but I thought it was a little cheesy and overdone. The story is drawn out too long, and ironically, the ending seemed to too quickly wrap up lose ends. Overall, it was okay, but not a book you'd ever want to read twice.
I was anxious to read Wally Lamb's new book and was thoroughly engrossed right from the beginning. Lamb's description of the Columbine tragedy was so poignantly depicted, that I felt a deep and emotional connection to the event and its victims. There are many twists and turns and surprises that are totally unpredictable and serve to make the book hard to put down. Its length is a bit daunting but Lamb expertly pulls you in and, before you know it, you're halfway through the book and looking forward to the second half. Readers beware...this is not a "feel good" book as it explores painful and difficult issues but well, well worth the read.
I did not like thus book. Too many characters and storylines and in the end it was very anticlimactic. Sorry Wally, I'm a fan of you but not this book :(
I gave up on page 553. I could no longer stomach this authors political beliefs. What a waste of a good book. I overlooked his political agenda in his other books, but this one went too far!!
I really wanted to like this book since I like his other bestsellers. Wow, are you in for a long, depressing journey. Way too much detail. I ended up skipping entire sections just to get to the end.
I read and throughly enjoyed 'She's Come Undone' and 'I Know This Much is True', so when 'The Hour I First Believed' came out, I was excited, thinking that Wally Lamb had wrote another masterpeice. Boy, was I wrong! Both Caelum and Maureen are completely unlikeable, and therefore impossible to feel sorry for. Caelum is VERY cynical and condesending to others, bitter about his childhood. Maureen is an adulturer in the beginning of the book, whiny and impossible to be around throughout the rest. Even though Delores and Dominick were also cynical, they remain likeable throughout the book. No one in 'The Hour I First Believed' is. Also, I believe Wally Lamb uses this book as a backdrop for his political beliefs, which I did not appreciate.
Jodi Picoult addressed this topic in 19 minutes...Wally Lamb chooses a different perspective and takes the reader on a very vivid journey
Liked this book, but at times the descriptions seemed long winded and at times pointless. I particularly enjoyed the added plot that involved the "research", it added another dimension to the story.
Ok, I waited a while to read this book, not sure if I was ready for it because I read so many good reviews and wanted to give it all of my attention. I finally picked it up when my classes finished and for the first half of the book, I was not disappointed. I found myself staying up late even when I had to work the next morning just to read more. About halfway into the book, it goes off on this tangent to the 1800s, early 1900s and I had to force myself to finish the book. What happened to Mo seemed like a quick fix to end the story and I am now left with a slight disdain for Wally (sorry, dude). What started as such a promising book ended up being a flop.