Monday, September 12, 2016

So much of life was the peeling away of illusions.

We Are Not OurselvesWe Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was National Read A Book Day on September 6th, and I pretty much devoured Matthew Thomas's We Are Not Ourselves. I've had a problem all summer where finding time/energy to read has been difficult, but binge-reading We Are Not Ourselves made me feel a lot better.

The novel begins with our protagonist, Eileen Tumulty (tumulty / tumultuous is not a coincidence). As the rest of the book will reveal, she spends her whole life trying to take care of others and fulfil personal dreams that - although more disillusioned at times than practical - make us sympathize with her nonetheless. She marries Ed Leary (again, Leary / King Lear is not a coincidence), an intense, practical, and extremely productive academic. They have a child, Connell, who is bright like his father and as subject to the pressures to conform as his mother can be. The novel revolves around this trio, usually tracing their shared yet individual lives from one angle at a time, putting distance between each of them in a way that accentuates their different perspectives and concerns. In all ways, we see how they all act in ways that are not entirely themselves - be it Connell's decision to act like a jerk in order to fit in with the cooler kids, Eileen's fleeting cult experience, or -- most distinctly -- Ed's Alzheimer's.

Figuring out what was wrong with Ed was my main incentive for reading on. I should have gotten the hint because of the Leary-Lear connection, but I kept thinking it was OCD until the reveal. He was the least clichéd character in the novel. Eileen, with her ambition to buy a house + escape Jackson Heights, and Connell, with his adolescent urge to fit in, were the closest to being stock characters. But Ed stood out as the one who was most 'not himself,' not only because of his illness, but also his attempts to masquerade his discomfort around his family and friends when Eileen threw parties. His letter to Connell was one of the most poignant points of the novel.

Matthew Thomas is an alumn, so perhaps it's no big surprise that Connell eventually goes to UChicago. The description of campus - Cobb, the Med, the Rockefeller Chapel all honestly made me feel pretty nostalgic for college.  I'm flying back in two weeks, and am going to make it a mission to leisure read as often as I can. I might not be able to produce a review after every book, but I've decided that is okay - getting the words into my system will be good enough.
“Life, she thought, was like that sometimes; for years, things were a certain way, and then in an instant, almost without conscious thought, they weren’t that way any longer, as if all the hidden pressure on their having been the way they’d been had found release through a necessary valve.”
“You are not in this life to count up victories and defeats. You are in it to love and be loved. You are loved with your head down. You will be loved whether you finish or not.”
View all my reviews