The Hour I First Believed

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The Hour I First Believed

By Wally Lamb

The common misconception of this book is that it is a novel about the Columbine tragedy.  Given the description of the book, as well as the hype it received, I fully anticipated a book that dealt mostly with Columbine.  Therefore, I was taken by surprise when I realized, in all actuality, The Hour I First Believed involves much more than the tragic school shooting that took place a decade ago.

Caelum Quirk is married to his third wife Maureen and teaching English at Columbine high school when, in the spring of 1999, he is forced to return home to Connecticut when his elderly aunt dies.  Caelum is in the midst of planning her funeral when the unthinkable happens; Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris go on a killing spree, slaughtering and maiming multiple students.  Maureen is caught in the library during the shooting and survives by hiding inside a supply cabinet during the rampage.  Caelum is relieved to find that his wife has survived the attacks, but quickly discovers that his wife is no longer the same person she was when he left the state just days before.

The book spans ten years, with Maureen struggling to come to grips with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that she suffers as a result of the shootings she witnessed.  Lamb really hit his stride with Maureen because he was able to make her seem sympathetic and reprehensible at the same time.  I wavered back and forth when it came to my opinion of her; the majority of the time, the reader can’t help but empathize with her pain and struggles.  On the other hand, there are times I just wanted to scream at her to wake up and get herself together.

One of the lesser recognized victims of the book was Caelum.  He prays fervently for his wife’s safety as he rushed home to Colorado from Connecticut , not knowing whether Maureen survived the massacre or not.  Once he realizes she is alive and safe, he is flooded with relief, but the reader soon realizes that he has more to overcome than he realizes, due to Maureen’s traumatizing situation.  Although Caelum never wavered on the conviction that he was glad his wife survived, it is obvious that his life would have been much different had he not had to deal with Maureen’s sickness once she survived.

Overall, this book takes so many twists and turns that I have barely touched on much of the plot.  Lamb has a tendency to provide many circumstances in his novels, and this one is no different.  At times, I was afraid the book was losing focus just because there was so much going on.  I was also afraid it would detract from the book’s credibility which, although I enjoyed the book greatly, I think it may have.  Regardless though, The Hour I First Believed is a wonderful read, especially for fans of Wally Lamb.

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