The Hour I First Believed

by Wally Lamb

Hardcover, 2008





Harper (2008), Edition: 1st, 752 pages


Relocating to a family farm in Connecticut after surviving the Columbine school shootings, Caelum and Maureen discover a cache of family memorabilia dating back five generations, which reveals to Caelum unexpected truths about painful past events.

User reviews

LibraryThing member freddlerabbit
Despite the criticisms I have of the book - and I am surprised to find myself at the end of it with so many, Lamb's style is so compelling to me, so rich and full and perfectly paced, that I stayed up well past my bedtime for four days because I couldn't put it down. To me, that's an incredible
Show More
marker of talent - while half my brain was engaging in criticisms, the half that controlled my fingers kept turning the pages.

All of Lamb's work is excellent. His characters are human. As the reader, you often can know much more than they do - can see much more than they do, can watch them walk into some stupid call they've made and screw up and want to yell at them about it. The experience is really like being able to see through someone else's eyes - you can't change them, you can't make them learn more or know better, but you can experience everything with them as they learn, themselves. His subjects are often ordinary people to whom really difficult, and sometimes extraordinary things happen - he's like Donna Tartt meets Michael Chabon. If you like to read books that demonstrate internal struggles and growth, if you like to become deeply enmeshed in a character's "head" and if you like to read about people who themselves are fairly ordinary, with routine responses and feelings and failings - this book (and all of Lamb's work) should make you very happy.

That being said, there are parts of the book I was unhappy with. I didn't realize, before I started reading, that this story would be connected, slightly but consistently to I Know This Much Is True, Lamb's previous book about the Birdsey twins. I felt that Lamb got a little heavy with his reliance on the images and theory of twinning - which the previous book had grappled with beautifully, and I myself didn't feel that these themes added that much to the story. They felt too contrived to me, unnecessary and distracting. Additionally, the last 20% or so of the book contains a large quantity of recited historical narrative about an ancestor of the main character, presented in the form of a presented paper or doctoral thesis. I found this rough slogging - I don't care for historical listings of facts, much, myself - and the often-dry recitations there "so and so did this, which was unusual for people like so and so at this time. Then so and so did that." were a striking and unwelcome contrast to Lamb's usual style. It felt to me that he had given up on writing the story and wanted us to know this biography - but it wasn't clear to me why that was. I didn't care much about the character mentioned - we didn't know that much about who she was. And while it was an important plot point for the narrator to have that information, there were other ways to accomplish this. But I think this will really depend on what you want from a book - a previous commenter says exactly the opposite, preferring historical recitation to interiority and character development, that reviewer says s/he preferred the last pages to the rest.

Lamb does a workable job of weaving larger themes into the personal struggles of the narrator - he manages, with varying degrees of subtlety, to work in some meditations on the unforseeable effects of traumatic events, both large and small, on how little one person can know another, on feelings of helplessness to change much in the worlds in which we live. I find his characters not only compelling, but likeable. And Lamb's name on a cover will still be enough to convince me to buy whatever he comes out with next.

But if you're going to start somewhere, I'd read I Know This Much Is True first - and if you'd like to read about a Columbine type situation, I think that We Need to Talk About Kevin is a much more solid, even, and less-contrived feeling book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member goofgirl93004
In Wally Lamb's third novel, "The Hour I First Believed", the protagonist, Caelum Quirk, a high school English teacher, alcoholic and, according to one of his ex-wives, an "emotional castrato" tells the story of survival and coming to terms in a world of chaos, violence and family secrets kept for
Show More
decades. Struggling with the aftermath of the Columbine shooting, Caelum and his wife Maureen deal with the loss and violence that has burst into their lives. Suffering from PTSD, Maureen embarks on her own emotional roller coaster. Caelum's story takes us from Colorado back to his home state of Connecticut, where the actions of the Columbine shooters continue to haunt the couple. In the meantime, Caelum learns of the proud history of his great grandmother, and the haunting secrets his family kept from him. The story is very topical, touching on Columbine, the Iraq war, and Hurricane Katrina, and explores how these recent events can change individual lives. The characters are well developed and interesting, although not nearly as compelling as the characters in his two previous novels, [I Know This Much Is True] and [She's Come Undone]. The topics of this novel seem to be of greatest focus over the personal traits of the main characters: violence, war, family history, slavery, infidelity, prison reform... the list goes on. Lamb's work at the York Correctional Institution seems to inform much of the novel, as do the tumultuous events of the late 1990s and into the millenium. Nonetheless, the story does haunt the reader and gives these tragic events a personal perspective. The failing would be the enormous number of issues dealt with in the book. It is also, as another reviewer states, more like two novels rather than one, which can leave the reader bewildered and disconnected halfway through. That said, I am glad I read this book. Wally Lamb continues to be an important modern literary voice.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Do you ever go to a buffet that's so full of good food that you take some of everything and end up eating so much that you make yourself sick? Imagine that you've gone to an intellectual buffet with Wally Lamb who insists on loading your place with idea after idea, digression after digression.
Show More
Everything is good and tasty, but there's just too much. Lamb doesn't know when to stop. He thinks he has access to so much information he just has to share with the reader who, after all, may have no other books to read so no way to get a taste of all the delightful knowledge he's gained throughout years of research. Lucky readers, he has fed us, and fed us all too well. Only half way through the book my nausea began to rise. PTSD, school shootings, bullying, substance abuse, marriage, man-woman relationships, prison reform, the civil war, slavery, the history of Bavaria, Rheingold beer, creative writing, sculpting, suffragettes, donuts vs bagels, corn mazes, life quests, religion, psychiatry - now that I have finished I understand how force-fed geese feel. I have become Wally Lamb foie gras, but my suffering is over. Never again will I dine at Lamb's overstuffed table.
Show Less
LibraryThing member msf59
This may only be Wally Lamb’s third novel, he’s not exactly prolific, but like Dylan in the mid-sixties, everything he creates is a grand-slam. This one follows an English teacher named Caelum Quirk and his wife, Maureen, who both happen to work at Columbine High School. The story covers the
Show More
massacre and the nasty fallout, as these shell-shocked characters attempt to pull their damaged lives back in order. This is only act I, in a sprawling narrative, that finds Caelum reaching back into his colorful family history to find strength and closure. The story spans over a hundred and fifty years and this includes visits with Mark Twain, King Ludwig, Gettysburg, Katrina and the Iraq war and that is just a few high-lights. Wally Lamb’s style reminds me of early John Irving, who is also proficient at lobbing tragic curve-balls, reminding us that death is always hovering nearby. Highly recommended!
Show Less
LibraryThing member jeniwren
This is a massive book which begins with Caellum Quirk a teacher at Littleton ,Colorado conversing with a former student who goes on to become one of the Columbine killers. His wife, Maureen is then caught up in the tragedy which leaves her shell shocked and suffering PTSD . There are many threads
Show More
to the story, a young troubled teen who adopts Maureen as her mother, financial woes have Caellum let out the upstairs rooms of his house to a couple fleeing hurricane Katrina, Caellum finds some old diaries that have links to his past about his true identity within his family etc etc...... The novel loses some focus at times on the central characters and I found flat spots where it became a bit frustrating and I put it down for a while to read other books but it is ultimately worth the effort and hence the high score I believe it deserves. Oprah will love it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member whirled
Wally Lamb's editors should take a long, hard look at themselves and consider a career change. They have done Lamb and his readers a disservice by allowing the author to sink deep into hubris. The Hour I First Believed could have been a masterpiece; instead it includes far too many narrative
Show More
threads and secondary characters, too many detours into bland territory and is simply too long. Lamb was clearly shooting for grand and landed on grandiose instead. The central storyline about Columbine and its ripple effects crackles along at a compelling pace that is sustained for a few hundred pages before Lamb and his characters wear out their welcome. THIFB isn't a bad book per se, but not recommended for readers new to the author. Both his previous novels are considerably better.
Show Less
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
3.75 stars

Caelum and his wife, Maureen, both work at Columbine High School. While Caelum is away just after his aunt dies, the shooting happens. It turns out Maureen was in the library and survived the shooting. The first half of the book focuses on the aftermath and how Caelum and Maureen deal
Show More
with what happened. Unfortunately, Maureen has a lot of trouble dealing with it and has flashbacks.

I thought this was quite good. I really liked the first half, but the second half got too bogged down in Caelum's family history, which I didn't find nearly as interesting. The first half, I'd rate 4 stars, but because the second half wasn't as good, I couldn't quite give it a full 4 stars. Really, it felt like it could have been two separate books. Overall, though, I quite liked it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member crathburn
I absolutely loved Wally Lamb's first two books and was extremely disappointed with this book. The concept of the book was good, but the interjected history of the main characters past took away from the main story and weakened the overall effect of the book. Too bad it took him 9 years to write
Show More
Show Less
LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I am a huge Wally Lamb fan, so when I heard this was coming out, I was beside myself. This is a very good novel, but not a great one. It unravels a bit towards the end and the unreal amount of tragic things that happen to our protagonist are well, pretty unreal. But like all of his books, this is
Show More
an author who knows how to explore the undercurrents that drive human beings, both genders, young and old. I think one problem is that he just tries to tackle far too much material. This is really two books in one (Caelum's search for self and history; and Maureen's tenuous survival after the Columbine shootings). At times, Lamb gets a bit preachy and I'd rather he stick to what he knows best, people. But despite its size, I flew through the book. It's easy to read, and while almost every one of these characters has major conflicts; and do things that you really wish they would not (which makes you go, I like him, I dislike him, I like him, poor guy, what a jerk), by the end of the novel, you really feel like you travelled the paths these folks take. No one comes close, fictionally, to how Lamb delves into abnormal psychology, addiction and chaos. Highly recommended, but you must have a fairly strong emotional stomach, as it were. The shootings are hard to read about; as are a few other things.
Show Less
LibraryThing member blockbuster1994
This book is a journey through life, spanning several generations. Each time period seemed well researched and genuine -- from the 19th century through the Columbine High School massacre to current times. Lamb's writing is engaging and I found the characters he presented to be true-to-life, with
Show More
all their flaws, fears and occasional truimphs chronologed.
Show Less
LibraryThing member maryintexas39
I loved this book!!! I laughed, I cried, I was shocked, and I was rocked. I didn't find this book long or meandering. It was big and meaty and flavorful!!! I hope he doesn't wait 9 mores years for another.
LibraryThing member bellalibrarian
When I heard that this book was coming out, I was already in love with it, and not for one second was I disappointed while reading it. I am a big Wally Lamb fan and was quite saddened that it took so long for Lamb to publish another book; however, it was long worth the wait. This book is about
Show More
everything. Quite a story, well worth your time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member laurie_library
very difficult to get through...I had a difficult time trying to keep the different stories straight. I was unable to finish it...I'll try again later
LibraryThing member Yestergirl
The Hour I First Believed is a book I just couldn't put down. It starts out about the relationship between Caelum and Maureen Quirk, Caelum a high school teacher and Maureen a school nurse, but quickly develops from the complexities of a marriage to the difficulties of loving someone and trying to
Show More
keep it all together while the other person is falling apart. Caelum and Maureen move to Littleton Colorado for a fresh start, but Maureen is caught in the Library of Columbine High School during the killing rampage. She survives the shooting , but is definitely not the same person and as she is spiraling down to disaster Caelum tries to be strong for her, but has to deal with all sorts of conflicting emotions. While Maureen is crumbling from the after effects of the Columbine shooting, Caelum & she move back to Connecticut and to his family farm. Here is where Caelum must deal with his demons and it's here the story takes off in two directions.

Fidelity, love, devotion, depression, addiction, genealogy are all words worth mentioning when describing this story. The characters grab you from the start and are well developed as the story progresses. It's over 700 pages and how could it not be with everything going on? But it's worth every page and after finishing the book I wish there were another 700 pages. Very well researched, especially in some of the more obscure references to Mark Twain and Tesla (Twain & Tesla? you are asking..) , it brings life to the story. Even though this is a work of fiction, I kept having to remind myself of that along the way.

I would say the only, and I mean ONLY, thing that I did not enjoy at first was the jumping around in flashbacks through out the chapters. After a while I learned to stop reading for a few minutes, take a deep breath and then continue on when I got to a flashback. And this solved the problem for me of it all being one jumble.

Although I loved the book, and have never read any other book by Wally Lamb, I was so sad at the end. Whatever happened to happily ever after.... I guess that's why this book is so real!
Show Less
LibraryThing member Bellettres
This is an absorbing novel whose central event is the Columbine school shootings and their aftermath. I kept notes as I read through it so that I could keep the genealogy sorted out while noting mythological references, history repeating itself, and insightful observations made by various
Show More
characters. Lamb incorporates so many themes, so many topical events, and so many generations of characters that it's a bit overwhelming. Nonetheless, I wanted to keep reading. It's satisfying to "get" some of the allusions, particulary the mythological ones, both overt and implied. It was also fun to recognize many of the places Lamb mentions, since I live on the CT shore not far from where the Quirk farm is supposed to be located. Big themes: violence, addiction, family dysfunction, emprisonment (both literal and figurative), marriage. Definitely recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mcdougaldd
I liked the multi-layered story narrated by Caelum, and English teacher. His wife, traumatized by the shootings at Columbine High School (she hid in a cabinet in the library and heard the killings there), cannot cope with ordinary life any more and convinces Caelum that they should move back to
Show More
Connecticut to his family farm after his aunt dies. She falls into prescription drug abuse and is charged with vehicular homicide when she hits and kills a teenager while driving under the influence of drugs. She is imprisoned at the prison which was started by one of Caelum's ancestors on the farm. The backstory is that of Caelum's colorful ancestors, especially the women who were involved in helping "fallen" women. The story involves many emotions--horror, despair, resignation, and hope.
Show Less
LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
As a reader who considers "I Know This Much is True" one of the best novels I've read in the past decade, I couldn't wait to experience Wally Lamb's latest work. Sadly, "The Hour I First Believed" left me disappointed. What begins as a gripping tale set against the backdrop of a real-life tragedy
Show More
(the Columbine High School massacre) eventually turns into a saga that -- at least for me -- was a chore to follow. I lost interest halfway through the book and only plowed ahead due to the respect I have for Lamb. I had hoped that my overall assessment would change once I reached the final chapters. It didn't. There's no disputing that Lamb is a talented storyteller. But I have to agree with some reviewers that this string of storylines seemed disjointed and even hard to follow in spots. Some of the themes Lamb tackles were much more effectively showcased in his earlier work.
Show Less
LibraryThing member cyncie
I found this book very hard to read, because the language was so graphic and sometimes gruesome. I read more than half and stopped. Perhaps the poignancy of knowing this was a real event with so many lives shattered made it difficult to stomach...
LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
i am so surprised and disappointed that i didn't finish this book. when i first started reading i was thinking "wow, this is definitely going to be a five star book." i loved it. then, about 400 pages in all these new characters started popping up and i just couldn't get into their story. so i feel
Show More
that if mr. lamb would've made the book shorter i would've absolutely loved it. i still love his writing though and will still read more books of his in the future if he continues to write.
Show Less
LibraryThing member yoj
I am a Wally Lamb fan, but I did not think this was up to his standard. Soooooo long, I was getting bored and wanted to skip some pages. Should have stuck with the Columbine story instead of going in too many directions. I also found myself not being as compassionate towards the characters as I
Show More
would like to think I would be in "real" life.
Show Less
LibraryThing member adpaton
This book has received wonderful reviews from the critics and has been enthusiastically recommended by friends, but I was loathe to read a novel which used the Columbine Massacre as its raison d’être.

I was wrong and everyone else was right: Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen worked at Columbine
Show More
High School in Colorado but on the day of the massacre he was in Connecticut, burying his aunt.

In the aftermath, while Maureen is struggling with the trauma, Caelum takes her to the family farm where he uses old documents to discover past secrets. It might sound drear and depressing but, trust me, it’s an excellent read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member msmith116
Had the author stuck to the trauma of Columbine, this book would've been great. Unfortunately, there are too many threads and it's easy to get sidetracked. After reading, She's Come Undone, this was a disappointment.
LibraryThing member GaylDasherSmith
So three books in one. Needed to be more concise, but you really feel like you walked this man's life with him
LibraryThing member YogiABB
This is one awesome book. It is a novel about Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen who are an English teacher and school nurse respectively at Columbine High School in Colorado. Caelum is in Connecticut attending to a deceased aunt's affairs when Maureen is trapped in a cabinet during the Columbine
Show More
murders. Maureen survives but is badly traumatized and her life slowly spins out of control as the years go by.

There is a a parallel story concerning the Caelum's ancestors and how their lives were messed up by the Civil War.

Through all this Caelum slowly finds out secrets about himself and his forbears. He also finds out love, steadfastness, and honor. And why he is so messed up.

I'm not really doing this book justice. This may be one of the best books I have
Show Less
LibraryThing member sainsborough
Yes, this was a good book, but it just didn't do it for me. Perhaps you have to be American to relate to it. I felt I wasn't really learning anything from it, although, by the end, I had probably learnt a bit about post-traumatic stress disorder and a bit about what happens in women's correctional
Show More
institutions. But how is it that wonderful, absorbing books are written that are not crowded with mass murderers, child abuse, prostitution, substance abuse, fatal car crashes, marital infidelity, suicides, skeletons in closets and so on? And I couldn't keep track of who was who amongst the family members.
Show Less


Original language

Page: 1.336 seconds