Monday, July 13, 2015

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Published August 2014 by Simon and Shuster
Source: purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
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 how much alcohol has been consumed. From an early age, Eileen wished that she lived somewhere else. She sets her sights on upper class Bronxville, New York, and an American Dream is born.

Driven by this longing, Eileen places her stock and love in Ed Leary, a handsome young scientist, and with him begins a family. Over the years Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house. It slowly becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper, more incomprehensive 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.

My Thoughts:
I feel into this book within the first few pages, so impressed was I with the character of Big Mike Tumulty, Eileen's father, the man who would so form the person she would later become.
"She wasn't too young to understand that the ones who pleased him were the rare ones who didn't drain the frothy brew of his myth in a quick quaff, but nosed around the brine of his humanity awhile, giving it skeptical sniffs."
Mike was a man who believed in living large in all ways - in his drinking, in personality, in his spending. He was a man who left an impression on everyone who came in contact with him. But Eileen's mother played an equal role in forming Eileen into the person she would later become - her drinking, her time away, her coldness.
"Her mother had worked hard to kill the past, but it club to life in Eileen's mind, in the thought that this apparently solid form might dissolve back into the liquid that had seeped into every corner of her childhood, bringing disorder and rot. The smell of the past, that irrepressible smoke, was spoiling the air between them, where, in the absence of others to filter it, an acrid cloud now hung." 
Eileen grew up knowing exactly what she a husband, in a home, in her much so that she was willing to spend the rest of her life working in a field she had no interest in simply because it would give her what she wanted.

When she found Ed Leary, she knew instantly that he was the one, the man who would help her rise in society and prosper. But not everything we learn stays with us, not everything that does stay with us is for the best, and not everything turns out the way we think it will no matter how hard we work for it.

In Eileen, Thomas has created a woman was often unpleasant, selfish, judgmental, and a racist. It's a daring thing to do with the character who is at the center of your story. In fact, none of the main characters is exceptionally likable. But there are parts of each of them that readers can relate to, enough to draw readers in and, as the book progresses, to make you care about what is happening to these people. As the book progressed, I found myself more and more emotionally involved, something I was not expecting to have happen. It is at once a saga and an intimate look at one family's journey and worth reading all 650 pages.

As Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came To The End, says of We Are Not Ourselves "It's all here: how we live, how we love, how we die, how we carry on." He's so right.

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