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.
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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.
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