Posts filed under ‘January 2015 reads’

A full length mirror – “We are not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas

Unknown“We are not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas, Published in 2014 

This is Matthew’s first novel and it is quite a feat.  It led me through such a range of emotions and made me want to hug my husband and my children repeatedly.  I will throw out this warning – this is not the book to read if you are going through a tough time.  While it is beautifully done, some novels are best saved for our healthier mental health days – this is one of those books.

Eileen is born in New York to two Irish immigrants.  They are both terrible alcoholics and she spends much of her childhood picking up after them both physically and emotionally.  As Eileen sees more and more of the city around her, she begins to imagine her future – one with a husband and a house all her own with a career that is not cleaning up other people’s messes. When she meets Ed, he is the perfect fit for the future is sure she deserves. He is a responsible, gentle, open hearted man with a successful science career ahead of him.  And so she marries him.

They buy a house, not the house of her dreams but still a house.  They have a child, though Eileen wanted more originally it is just one son, Connell.  Ed decides to stay a professor at a community college instead of taking other more prestigious jobs, which is not what Eileen wants but at least he is working.  And this is Eileen’s life.  Everything is fine, but it is not necessarily what she dreamed it would be.

As Ed and Eileen reach middle-age something starts to change with Ed.  He begins coming home each day from work, sitting for endless hours listening to records.  Then he begins listening to the records with head phones on, as if disconnecting from everyone.  And things begin to slip, his appearance, his temper, and the dynamic of the family begins to change.  Eileen is then stuck in that place we all get to, when we realize that what we had was maybe not what we dreamed but was really all we needed.  By then it is too late to cherish it and life for Eileen is upended as she tries to determine what is happening to Ed while pretending that everything is normal and going to be okay.

The middle of this book is hard. Eileen and Ed fight dreadfully for quite a lot of pages. Ed is terribly cruel but Eileen is so harsh it is cringe worthy.  And the fact that Thomas can capture this back and forth so beautifully is a great credit to him. But for me it took too long to get to the point where Eileen finally determines what is happening to Ed.  It was painfully drawn out.  But in truth, this is an accurate depiction of what this kind of decent into mental darkness looks like. It is long, scary and lonely for everyone involved.

There are so many truths in this book.  And those truths are terrible to examine, not unlike standing naked in front of a full length mirror looking at all of your defects.  We are many pieces of different things but we often define ourselves in ways that are not based in the core of who we actually are. Money, status, careers these are not the core of who we are really, they are manifestations.  And our defects are large.  When those around us need us most we will disappoint both them and ourselves.  We will be harsh and cruel when love is all that is needed.  We will lose patience and miss important moments of our lives in that impatience.  And we will find ourselves years later sitting on a front stoop somewhere reflecting and wishing for that simple day that seemed like nothing at the time but was everything.  But what comes from that reflection is what is important and this is how we come back to ourselves and move on.

“When life seems too cruel, and there seems too little love in it. When you feel you have failed. When you don’t know what the point is. When you cannot go on. I want you to draw strength from me then. I want you to remember how much I cherished you, how I lived for you. When the world seems full of giants who dwarf you, when it feels like a struggle just to keep your head up, I want you to remember there is more to live for than mere achievement. It is worth something to be a good man. It cannot be worth nothing to do the right thing.”

Other reviews to check out:

A Bibliophile’s Reverie

Rhapsody in Books

January 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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