|We Are Not Ourselves
3.5 / 5
"His father was watching the line in the water."
Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.
When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.
Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.
Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.
Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.
This book was...good but not excellent, not life-changing or world-revealing or anything. Just a good, solid family history. Some tough but important parts about Alzheimer's. It was interesting how the story began from Eileen’s POV way early, but perhaps the author needed to explain why she became a nurse, how her life turned out as it did, and why she had such aspirations for her son. The theme of the book seemed very generational. It was very much story-based rather than point-based. This was the story of Eileen and her legacy, and that was pretty much it. No lessons to be learned (except maybe to love what you have while you still have it) and no real takeaway, although it is also a story I know I will remember for quite a while.
This book recalled to me something more along the lines of an Irving or Franzen novel, with its sweeping storylines that didn’t focus too tightly on any one time of anyone’s life for too long. I enjoy those books, but I never know what I am taking away from them. It feels often to me more like I am a voyeur in someone else’s life than I am learning from the experience of standing in their shoes for a while. I think I prefer the latter sorts of books, for the most part. But the author wrote his characters' inner thoughts and motivations beautifully and so effortlessly, which I think won my heart in the long run.
Mare Winningham narrated the audiobook, surprisingly! That was a nice bonus, and I think her voice fit Eileen’s story and personality really well. Excellent casting.
Overall, I think I would recommend this book, but I doubt I could vocalize why. I think it was a worthwhile way to spend my reading time, is all I can say.
P.S. I also really do love the cover art...the way it throws suburbia and "the American Dream" on its side, literally - much like the book! (I originally thought it was a Ferris wheel, and now can't stop seeing that, though...)
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