Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Book Review: We are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Author: Matthew Thomas
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: language, a little sex
We Are Not Ourselves is billed as "a multigenerational debut novel of an Irish-American family," but I think it's really the story of Eileen Tumulty Leary, born in Queens in 1941. Eileen grows up as an only child in an apartment where the relationship between her parents could be described as "glacial." She shares a room with her unhappy, alcoholic mother, while her father, the jovial bartender, slept next door. Eileen pursues the American Dream with a vengeance, graduating from college in three years, doing graduate work in nursing, and marrying Ed Leary, a PhD scientist. But Ed doesn't want a fancy job or a big house in the suburbs, and Eileen comes realize that she won't have a fairy tale ending to her life.
I was fascinated by We Are Not Ourselves. It's pretty much a textbook example of a slow-moving epic family drama, and these are the kinds of books I like best. I love how prickly and flawed Eileen is. I love how unaware of this prickles and flaws she can be. I love watching a real relationship, with struggles that can't be worked out in one evening conversation play out over several hundred pages. I love being a party to what happens when one partner's health fails, and how that effects the entire family. I also enjoyed seeing how the story continued in the eyes of Eileen and Ed's son, Connell. After you've read this book you feel like you know Eileen, like you've lived inside her head for a year or two, and that is a magical experience for a reader.