REVIEW: WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, BY MATTHEW THOMAS

91hu3hzm1PLThis epic saga of an Irish Catholic family commences in Queens in 1941, with Eileen Tumulty, the MC, whose story begins when she is about nine years of age. Through her eyes, we see the effect her father has on her, with his stories, his drinking, and his larger-than-life essence.

Her remote mother, also a heavy drinker, stops drinking at one point, but life does not seem better for her.

Even at this early age, we see Eileen’s yearning for a rich tapestry of love, family, and beautiful settings. She has her eye on bigger and better things.

So when she meets Ed Leary in her college years, when she is studying nursing, there is a pull. Something about him that feels like home.

But as they begin their journey, and even after their son is born, we see the chasms growing between them, as what they each want seems to differ more and more with time.

Ed’s quirks seem more and more irritating to Eileen, as she realizes, finally, how much they have grown apart. And perhaps they never wanted the same things and she only saw what she wanted to see. Eileen’s longing for what she envisions for them—the house, the neighborhood, and the life—drives her to take actions.

But will the changes they make contribute to other, more drastic upheavals in their lives? What lies beneath Ed’s behavior, and what will Eileen have to do to bring about the serenity she craves?

The tragedies, sadness, and poignant moments that linger over the rest of We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel kept me going, wondering and even hoping that there would be some miraculous resolution to the changes in their lives. What was great to see was Eileen’s strength, in the face of life’s unexpected reversals. Ed’s traits that seemed annoying earlier in the story are now seen for what they were, a harbinger of what was to come.

Connell, the son, was difficult to pin down, for me. In his youth, he seemed on the brink of choices that could derail his life, but then, almost magically, he seemed to turn things around. What I did not like about him was his inability to see things from his parents’ perspective, and his obliviousness to any needs but his own. But time itself corrects this, and in the end, we see a new and improved version of him, ready to confront his legacy and carve out his own.

A compelling story that touches on issues with which families struggle, even without the tragedies. How marriages are often entered into without thought to how the individuals will manage when the early love no longer sustains them. And then we see that the commitment and the early bonds step in to spotlight the deeper and lasting foundation. Beautiful prose that created wonderful images of a family, a life, and the legacies left behind. 5.0 stars.

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