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The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

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The Hour I First Believed : I'm a big fan of She's Come Undone, and I liked I Know This Much Is True: A Novel (P.S.) ,so I had high hopes for Hour. I stuck with it, but by the end I thought "oh, good grief." What worked so well in She's Come Undone was that the length of tome mimicked the main character's long journey. Here, it feels like the Columbine shootings aren't enough, so the main character, Caelum Quirk, has to undergo tragedy after tragedy in order to make any progress as a human being. The next thing you know you've spent days reading a book that can't decide if it's about post-trama life, or it's a murder mystery, or it's about your identity and your parents.

For me, part of the problem is that I never like Caelum. He's a teacher whose wife Maureen, a school nurse, was trapped in the Columbine High School library during the April 1999 shootings. If only Lamb had focused on the impact of that on their lives, and their marriage, for the duration of the book.

One thing I will say for it - you never know what's coming next. Additionally, Lamb's description of Maureen during the shootings is so harrowing, you remember what an excellent writer he is, and wish that an editor had reigned him in.

There's been a lot of chatter about whether this book is exploitive. It's absolutely not - to use fictional names for the Columbine killers would have been dishonest, and authors blending truth and fiction is hardly new. It's just this is a bad example. For a far better book on the impact of school violence, try Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel (P.S.) .

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