About half way through this book I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to make it to the end. It was so depressing and I almost wasn’t able to handle it. There didn’t seem to be any redeeming qualities about a book that made me feel so sad.
I have a friend that adores depressing books. One of her absolute favourites is Wally Lamb‘s I Know This Much Is True and her book club selection for us was A Fine Balance. But even she found The Hour I First Believed tough going.
But clearly this book had gotten under my skin because I read all 730 pages of it in 2 days. Twelve hours later I still can’t stop thinking about it. It struck me that this is what a book club book should be because there is so much about this book that I want to talk about with someone!
I thought this book was about the Columbine school shooting and the aftermath. I think I avoided it for a long time for this reason – not sure that I wanted to go down that path, thinking it might be along the same lines as We Need To Talk About Kevin, one of the most disturbing books I’ve probably ever read.
But while the catalyst for the majority of the book is the Columbine shooting, eventually you kind of forget about it (in terms of the book) because so much else happens as a result. Caelum, a teacher, and his wife Maureen, a nurse, move to Colorado from Connecticut to start over after infidelity almost tore their marriage apart. He takes a job teaching at Columbine and Maureen becomes the school nurse. When Caelum’s elderly aunt suffers a stroke in Connecticut, he goes back to be with her. Maureen spends one more day at the school before flying to join him. That last day happens to be April 20 1999. She ends up trapped in a cabinet in the library while the shooting spree happens and is completely devastated by it afterwards.
But she can’t snap out of it. She ends up suffering from a pretty severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and can barely handle every day life. They decide to move back to Connecticut, into the farmhouse that Caelum has been left upon the death of his aunt, try to put some distance between Maureen and what happened. My friend of the depressing reads said to me that she felt like the book was two different stories and they didn’t necessarily converge in any way. At first, I kind of agreed with her. All of a sudden we’re back with a 10 year old Caelum telling us about life on the farm, reading articles about the women’s prison that his great grandmother started running on the property, and delving more deeply into the traumatic alcoholism of Caelum’s father.
But there are so many themes running through this book that do make the two stories come together: idea of the quest of personal journey, the fallen woman motif, infidelity, a praying mantis keeps showing up at key moments in the book, faith runs through it all the time, and the idea that knowing one’s history can help one to connect the dots in the present.
See what I mean about book club potential? I took this book out from the library and now I’m sad that I have to return it.
Bottom line: I loved this book and will probably try and force lots of other people to read it too.