Saturday, August 2, 2014

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel

Title:  We Are Not Ourselves:  A Novel
Author:  Matthew Thomas
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2014. 640 pages.
ISBN:  147675666X / 978-1476756660

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "They gave out no manual when you got married, no emergency kit with a flashlight for when the power went out. You had to feel your way around in the dark for the box of matches."

If I had to summarize this book in a few words, the words would be, "Life happens." Sometimes life happens as you plan it. Sometimes, life happens while you are busy making other plans.

Eileen Tumulty wants the American dream - the big house, the family, the status. Growing up in a poor Irish family in Queens, New York, Eileen dreams. When she meets Ed Leary, she falls in love. She also feels that they share their dreams, and that Ed will provide the means for her to achieve what she has always wanted. After all, Ed is an educated, up and coming scientist.

They marry, and then comes the reality of marriage. Eileen discovers that Ed does not share the same dreams. He is comfortable in his job and in his home and does not aspire to more. Eventually, along comes a child - Connor. Eileen continues to hold on to her dreams, thinking that she can convince Ed to go along.

Ed does change, but not in the way that Eileen expects. Darkness and sadness enters their lives. "Life, she thought, was like that sometimes; for years, things were a certain way, and then, in an instant, almost without conscious thought, they weren't that way any longer, as if the hidden pressure on their having been the way they'd been had found release through a necessary valve." Ed seems to slip further and further away, and along with him go Eileen's dreams.

Yet, this family struggles along, holding together in their love for each other. At one point, Eileen realizes that "there was something perfect about the imperfection of her husband - her mortal, living husband."

This book is the story of a life - the sometimes free fall spiral of a family's life. The story covers a broad spectrum - from Eileen's childhood through the entire scope of their marriage. In each era of their lives, we see the reality shift and the comparison of that reality to Eileen's American dream. We see neighborhoods transition. We see careers build and careers end. We see children grow up. We see friendships come and go. We see life take completely unexpected turns. We see regrets for the paths not taken. We see dreams given up and dreams held on to. All the ups and downs of life.

This book is not action driven and not even much plot driven. Life happens, but at the same time, nothing much happens - there are no moments of climax or big dramatic events. It is the drama of life - day by day and year by year. The book is centered around the characters of Eileen and Ed, and to some extent, Connor. As a result, the book is slow moving, and at over 640 pages, that can be tough. Yet, I found myself engrossed in the Learys and their lives.

The sadness of life permeates this book, but it is not without its uplifting and humorous moments. That balance touched me. The writing itself also touched me. I found myself highlighting statements to remember and to think about later:
  • "So much of life was the peeling away of illusions."
  • "Maybe your imagination stopped at the boundaries that contained it."
  • "She wanted the next phase of her life to remain forever potential."
  • "I have to invent myself before I can reinvent myself."
  • "This was his final gift to her:  to silence her regrets about the paths she hadn't taken."
With its length and its character focus, this book is not for everyone. It completely worked for me. This book is Matthew Thomas's debut novel. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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