“I don’t know, maybe we’re all chaos theorists.”
It is fitting that today is the day that I sit down to write the review for The Hour I First Believed. Today is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the catalyst for the events that occurred in Wally Lamb’s third novel. I read this novel without really realizing that the anniversary of two of the biggest school shootings were soon, but reading it now has definitely added a certain amount of poignancy to the story.
Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen are both employees at Columbine High School in 1999. He is an English teacher and Maureen is the school nurse; they took their jobs after moving to Colorado to save their marriage and so Maureen could reestablish a relationship with her father. On the day of the massacre, Quirk is out of town because of a family emergency, forced to watch the tragedy unfold with the rest of America, while his wife is trapped in the library in Columbine, hiding from the gunmen. The novel unfolds from this one tragic event, delving deeper and deeper into the history of the Quirk family as they suffer the repercussions of of the tragedy.
One of the most impressive aspects of the novel, in my opinion, was the way in which the Columbine massacre was handled. It was realistic and terrifying; the narrative drew on what we know is true about the events and led into speculation, artfully combining the historical with the fictitious. It was so current and it read like a friend was telling you their own tragic story. It has a very conversational feel to it.
The novel is very long – over 700 pages – but it did not feel like I was reading a really long book. In fact, I read the book in two days, devouring every page. It was only around page 600 that I began to feel like the story lost some of its steam. While I was originally really interested in the story of Caelum’s ancestors, I think the narrative was eventually weighed down by it. I also thought the amount of tragedy that Caelum faced in his life was almost too much to the point where it was unbelievable. Those downsides being said, I was still really impressed with the story, both for the content it handled and the way it was told.
I think this book successfully chronicles a period in our history that we have yet to really have hindsight about. The events of this book are certainly still current events, and we watch them unfold with eyes not unlike Caelum’s. Knowing that Lamb began writing the book shortly after the events of Columbine made the novel only more interesting – he was writing this novel as all of these events were happening. With the same perspective on the events as his character had. He was not writing them with that hindsight in mind. It was a refreshing perspective to take on such current events. I never once felt like Lamb was “cashing in” on the tragedies, but rather that he was genuinely interested in telling Caelum’s story.
87% – Pros: A fascinating story, an excellent character study. Cons: A little unbelievable at the end.