Monday, August 31, 2015

We Are Not Ourselves - Matthew Thomas

One of my reading groups chose to read this book for our monthly meeting.  It's the story of a family, Eileen, an Irish first generation American, her husband Ed, a science teacher and professor, and their son, Connell, growing up and living in America from the 1940's through to today.  Eileen aspires to have a better life than her parents; her husband resists her dreams and dotes on their only son.

As a young girl, her father takes her to see how the better half lives, beginning her desire for a better life:
"There were places, she saw now, that contained more happiness than ordinary places did.  Unless you knew that such places existed, you might be content to stay where you were."
Reading of Eileen's ambitions for her husband reminded me of the classic movie where an ambitious wife pushes her country doctor husband to perform an operation on a boy to advance their standing in the community (I can't remember the name of it).  I felt a dread building as she pushed and pushed and he resisted.  It felt like a crisis was imminent.  She believes he's having a mid-life crisis when he spends hours listening to old records.
"It was the kind of thing she imagined people did when they came to a point where the roads to the past and the future were equally muddy - retreat to the high ground of a major project."
When the real problem is revealed she wonders why it's happening.
"It hadn't happened for a reason, but they would find something to glean from it anyway.  There didn't have to be a divine plan for there to be meaning in life."
The mother/son relationship is rocky, with Eileen pushing him always to do better.  Connell is a teenager and then college student as their tragedy unfolds and finds it hard to reach out to his mother and realizes:
"...it was easier with girlfriends.  He threw all his affection at them and hoped that some of it would stick, maybe even come back to him, though if it didn't he gave it anyway, he gave it more, even, because everyone had something that needed to come out."
I enjoyed the author's descriptions of every day things, he painted pictures of their lives with small authentic details:
"She had never had a cigarette.  Aside from the pure brain-dead imbecility of subjecting yourself willingly to an avoidable carcinogen, she had always found them vile, noxious, smelly things -- except for a brief period in high school when she loved a boy who smoked and she was intoxicated by the aroma..."
At one point, Eileen goes through Ed's wallet and the author lists all the credit cards, membership cards, bits of paper and pictures that tells us so much about the man and our modern way of life.

This is a touching, tough and loving story of family and striving for a better life while living with the one we have.

Highly recommended.


Published: 2014  Read: August 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 9 781476 756660

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