Review: We Are Not Ourselves

17830123Title: We Are Not Ourselves

Author: Matthew Thomas

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: 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.

Review: To sum it up: it was not what I expected, but it sure did have its moments.

At a young age Eileen is offered a glimpse into her mother’s version of the American dream; it is the image of a large house, with the woman able to lounge inside and look out of her windows at all that she owns. From that moment on Eileen is determined to achieve a similar level of success for herself, the man she goes on to marry, and for the child they will have. However, this idea of the American dream is not what I will take away from this story. I was far more entranced in the plight that befalls Eileen’s husband, and the way it alters the development of mother and son as they struggle to come to terms with a new reality and their shortcomings in terms of their own expectations.

I will not say more than that due to spoilers. I only want to stress that those sections of the book really got me to think, particularly the final section and the reflections it presented. Because this book covers such a large span of years, it will jump forward to significant moments of the characters’ lives. This is a very character-driven novel — you will either appreciate it or you will not. For my part, I am glad that I stuck with the story beyond my initial inclination to abandon it due to length and what I perceived to be stagnation. If you also find yourself in this predicament then I advise to carry on because the moments that build to a crescendo of reflection was worth it.

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