What makes Wally Lamb great is that he writes about real life – a life to which the reader can truly relate. The truth of the matter is that life often sucks! (“Life is messy, violent, confusing, and hopeful.”) It is often mundane, depressing, frustrating, difficult and uninspiring. Filled with work, chores, arguments, leaky roofs, busted cars and money shortages. If you do not wish to be reminded of this reality – this truth – then Wally Lamb is not the writer for you my friend. If you seek escape – look elsewhere.
“It’s like there’s this wave coming toward me, but there’s nothing I can do about it. And then it reaches me, crashes over me and…and I’m done for another day. I just give up. Give in to it. Because how do you stop a wave. You don’t. And you’re wise to recognize your powerlessness to do so. But what you can do is learn how to negotiate this wave. Work within the context of its inevitability.”
The characters in Wally Lamb’s books are incomplete – we witness their growth and maturation as they endure “real” life. This is a quality that I look for in fiction – I want to see struggle that I can relate with. I want to see myself reflected in the experiences of the characters. I want to be validated, encouraged and inspired.
“My soul was a burden, bruised and bleeding. It was tired of the man who carried it, but I found no place to set it down to rest. Neither the charm of the countryside nor the sweet scents of a garden could soothe it. It found no peace in song or laughter, none in the company of friends at table or in the pleasures of love, none even in books or poetry… Where could my heart find refuge from itself? Where could I go, yet leave myself behind?”
Really, this is a book about a journey. About discovering what really matters in life – a lesson that is sometimes not learned until everything is stripped from you. As Americans, we have the luxury of surrounding ourselves with diversions. We are insulated from much of the real struggle of life – often because we are able to throw money at our problems.
But, what if you lost everything, one piece at a time. At what point would you break? When would you quit? In The Hour I First Believed, the main character, Caelum Quirk, experiences a series of devastating losses and life changes that send him “backward,” landing him in the home of his youth. From the shootings at Columbine, to job loss, his wife’s mental illness and death, his continual financial challenges and grueling work schedule – Caelum Quirk rises every day to meet life head on.
Reading this book requires patience. Nothing explodes. There are no graphic sex scenes. We simply walk with Caelum as he faces each day, tries to deal with what is in front of him, cope with his many difficulties and find purpose and meaning in the process. This book is filled with wisdom – with the knowledge that life is not always fair, not always fun – but is always beautiful.
Our task in life is to look through our immediate challenges – the temporal – and begin to see their purpose. Everything happens for a reason. So, instead of asking “why,” we should ask “what for?” Our experiences mold and forge us – they are the building blocks for who we are to become. For whatever is next. Failure to face our challenges with dignity, courage and persistence will result in a failure to grow or mature. No growth leaves you right where you are, repeating the same mistakes, until you open your mind, get over yourself, and learn what needs to be learned.
I am grateful for the many hours I spent in reading this book. It was a beautiful journey from which a learned a great deal. It sparked reflection and stirred emotions that I have long buried. It left me with a sense of hope, wisdom, sadness and satisfaction. An interesting mix for sure.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.