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Saturday, February 21, 2015

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas~★★★★

Author: Matthew Thomas
Title: We Are Not Ourselves
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Born in 1941 in Woodside, Queens, and raised playing caretaker to her drinking Irish parents, Eileen Tumulty always dreamed of a better life, away from her turbulent upbringing. When she meets Ed Leary, a research scientist whose bearing is nothing like that of the men she's known, Eileen thinks she's found a man to deliver her to the cosmopolitan existence she desires.
After they marry, Eileen encourages Ed to want more---a higher-profile job, more prominent associates, a finer house in a better neighborhood---but as the years pass it becomes clear his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. Even as the Learys finally glimpse a rise in their station, to the grand house Eileen has always coveted, an inescapable darkness enters their lives. Eileen, 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 their future.
Through the Learys, Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American twentieth century; the promise of immigration, domestic bliss, and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a powerfully affecting novel about resilience in the face of disappointment and the redemptive power of love. It also a reminder that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats. 
Vast in scope, heroic in character, masterful in style, We Are Not Ourselves is a testament to our greatest desires and our greatest frailties, and a message of hope perfect for our times." 

Taryn's Review: Sometimes after I read a book, I immediately know how many stars I plan to rate it here on my blog. This book was more of a challenge to rate. I finished it a few days ago and spent some time really thinking about the story that I had read.

A surprise for me after finishing this book was how strongly I related to some of the themes in the story. There were definitely times I saw myself (or my old self, anyway) in Eileen. Her constant push to be better, have more, her eyes always looking ahead toward the future, was completely a feeling that I could relate to and used to mirror in my own life. Much like Eileen, it took some major life changes for me to realize that I was missing out on the present. There are so many times you want to reach through the pages and shake Eileen and yell, "Relax! You are missing what is right in front of you!"

Ed was harder for me to relate to, yet after some reflection I wondered if also he missed the present by being too engrossed in only one aspect of his life. While there was no doubt that Ed adored his son Connell, Ed's career as a scientist/professor was his major focus, much to the chagrin of Eileen; not because he dedicated most of his time to it, but Eileen craved for Ed to use it as a catalyst to be the best, work at the top school, and bring in the big money for the family. Ed was not interested in the status that Eileen craved, but no doubt his passions for academia caused him to detract time from his private life. 

The present moment of life thrusted itself upon Ed and Eileen when Ed was diagnosed with an incurable illness. The lesson here was that suddenly Ed and Eileen both recognize the countdown clock ticking away time...time that they thought was guaranteed to come. How many moments were wasted, how many moments were lost, how many moments were missed?

I didn't expect Eileen and Ed to be haunting characters, but I continue to think about their story and the themes that ran through their lives. They are very honest and relatable characters. Connell was less interesting to me. Not that he didn't have his struggles, but I was more drawn to Ed and Eileen. The length of the book is intimidating...620 pages! It probably could have been whittled down (personally I would have lessened Connell's role in the book), but I'm glad I read it. I think Eileen and Ed were portrayed very well and so true to a fashion that many of us emulate today. In fact, the reflection of the characters' flaws are so pronounced in ourselves that it might be hard for the reader to even realize the connection, but when one does the book really is meaningful. Great debut novel by Matthew Thomas.

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