Overall, I think our book club liked the book. It wasn't one of our favorites. I like Wally Lamb - She's Come Undone, I Know This Much is True. And there was much I enjoyed about The Hour I First Believed, but I didn't like the ending. I was afraid from the beginning that's where the title was going. I was right to be afraid. For a writer that I view as being very real, very raw, this ending was way too contrite.
I appreciated the real life events that were written into the novel - Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, traumatized soldiers, Bush. There have been a number of catastrophes in our recent past. We watched the news coverage, but eventually the media frenzy begins to wane and it's easy when you're removed from what happened, to forget. It's easy not to think about how many people, families are still suffering from their experience at Columbine. It's easy to forget how many people are still displaced, still dealing with losing their homes, everything they had, years after Hurricane Katrina. I think Lamb did a great job of interweaving fiction and nonfiction, particularly with Columbine. It's important for us to remember the shootings, to honor the memories of those who lost their lives.
What I liked most about the novel was the way the tragedies of the characters were paired with Greek myths. I've always had a thing for Greek mythology, for Ancient Greece in general. The birth place of democracy and philosophy. A culture that knew everything about food, theater, battle, catharsis, and sex. A beautiful place, on the ocean, the breath taking architecture, smell of olive trees. Yes, I really want to go to Greece some day. * sigh* I've read and taught many of the plays and myths. From Oedipus and Medea to the Iliad and the Odyssey. I wrote a really illuminating paper once comparing Moses to Odysseus, I think it was. I can't quite remember, but I'm sure it was ground breaking. I think the Greeks had the whole concept of culture nailed much better than the Hebrews. And while much of our Christian brethren may like to associate us more with the Hebrews, there are many, much more colorful, much more honest, comparisons to be drawn between modern American culture and Ancient Greece.
In Lamb's novels, the characters are always broken. And not just slightly broken, but seriously, tragically, f@#&d up. And not just one character, but a very large percentage of the characters. Pretty much anyone who plays a pivotal role in the story has some serious issues. It is, perhaps, a little over the top, a bit more than is realistic. Yet, I do appreciate it. These people struggle. They are not one-dimensional, cookie-cutter, hero and villain caricatures. His characters are vivid, dealing with very real events and the consequences of their actions. Life is not always pretty. It's appropriate that he brings in Greek literature, since his own novels are so very tragic, so very dramatic. And while Shakespeare got tragedy down pretty well himself, in my opinion, nobody did it better than the Greeks. Oedipus killing his father, marrying his mother and gouging out his own eyes? Medea murdering her own children as revenge against her husband? Hercules murdering his wife and children in crazed rage induced by Hera? Nobody did tragedy quite as often, or quite on par with the Greeks, and Lamb certainly seems to have a thing for tragedy.
Definitely a must read if you feel you need reminding of how blessed you are. Even with your financial problems, job security worries, illness, stress, insomnia, no matter what your deal, I promise you'll find at least a dozen characters who have it way worse than you. You'll feel a little better when you're done. And just in case you haven't spent years studying and teaching literature, that is the definition of catharsis, people.