Book 79 of my 2014 Book Challenge
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Summary (via Goodreads)Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.
When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.
Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.
The chapters pass quickly but the book reads slowly.
I absorbed this story in my bones. It paints a full picture but was so hard to read because it's so sad. It was draining like hanging out with a pessimist - there were no good things in between the sad moments. It was uncomfortable because one small thing led to another and it felt like things were going to get out of hand very quickly.
I'm glad it switched voices so I could get Connell's perspective as well as Eileen's. I thought Ed's would come in as well but the story was able to be told with just the two of them.
The rant against the healthcare system was true but awkwardly placed. It conveyed the panic when things are falling apart but I felt it could've been weaved in as they explored options and come across more lightly than the monologue did.
A Few Quotes from the Book
" 'Don't ever love anyone,' her mother said, picking the papers up and sliding them into the bureau drawer she'd kept her ring in. 'All you'll do is break your own heart.' "
"At school she usually had the answer worked out before the other girls put up their hands, but the last thing she wanted was to draw any kind of attention to herself. She would have chosen, of all powers, the power to be invisible."
"She had enough energy to make important changes in her life, to pull her husband out of a pit, to yank her whole family out of the maw of a neighborhood that threatened to swallow them whole."
"She wondered whether she should have forced her hand sooner, but they gave out no manual when you got married, no emergency kit with a flashlight for when the power went out. You had to feel your way around in the dark for the box of matches."