Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Hour I First Believed

I was just sinking into the slough of despond from reading the late great David Foster Wallace's epic tome, Infinite Jest, (funny in a way that ultimately left me feeling empty) when I discovered Wally Lamb's novel, The Hour I First Believed. Let me tell you up front, I have not finished it yet. I don't know how this is going to come out. But it is one of the best books I've read in forever.

Lamb's protagonist Caelum Quirk comes from an all too real sounding troubled background. Following a tumultuous marital break up and a fragile reconciliation, Caelum and his wife move west -- to Littleton, CO where they both work at Columbine High. Caelum's wife, Maureen, hides for hours in a cabinet while Klebold and Harris kill their victims within her hearing. Marueen's struggle with PTSD, consequent drug additiction, and her own subsequent tragedy which lands her in prison all raise the qeustions that devastate our belief that life has any meaning or that there is any foundation for hope.

The characters hear and sometimes espouse the whole panoply of answers -- including the religious ones -- even chaos theory -- and they just don't bring much solace or sound convincing to the people in pain. At the point where I have just read, Maureen is toying with a faint sense of grace through sacrametnal worship in prison. Caelum ain't buying it.

I don't know whether Wally Lamb will turn out to be a believer, a denier, or a man still in search of the all important but ever elusive answers. I do know he is a compelling story teller who is ruthlessly honest about life and compassionate for the characters who live it. I respect his search.

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