Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008. 735 pages with acknowledgements, sources, etc.
A novel! Me read a novel? This is almost unheard of. I generally read biographies and histories.
A friend recommended it and our daughter-in-law had recently read and loved it… The friend said I might appreciate the way the author handled old letters and diaries found in an attic. Well, that certainly caught my attention! Daughter-in-law agreed. Okay, I’ll give it a try.
Wally Lamb had done thorough research. Then he told his story through imagery, flashback, graphic detail, language, sympathy, anger, and other writing techniques: far-out connections and unlikely happenings, sex and family secrets. While I’ve known of some strange “soap-opera” real-life scenarios, I kept thinking no one could/would ever live this kind of life, but the author kept me going anyway. Even the fictionalized biography that was pieced together from the old diaries and letters seemed far-fetched, yet I kept reading.
This book would appeal to a variety of people, including educators, women’s rights advocates, mental health specialists, historians, clergy, and, yes, even genealogists. Particularly significant are the issues dealing with people suffering from trauma and other psychological issues: those caught in situations beyond their control and surviving. Topics include the Columbine shootings, Hurricane Katrina, prison life for women, troubled teens, divorce and love, income struggles, and coming to grips with family history. Even though the setting is very 21st Century, the author even weaves in Civil War medical treatment, Samuel Clemens and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Through all of this, readers come to understand the complex maze of life. The author accomplished his goal.
I read the entire book, in a very short time. Lamb captured my attention and I devoured.
As a family historian, I especially appreciated Lamb’s underground river “too deep for chaos to reach” allowing for ancestral connections. And, with all of the house cleaning I’ve been doing, I appreciated his ability to “unyoke” himself of family property and move on.
I’m glad I read this novel.