Published by Simon & Schuster on 19 August 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
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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.
Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.
The fact that they were there, that everything they owned wasn’t enough somehow, disturbed her, suggesting a bottomlessness to certain kinds of unhappiness.
I was very excited to get a copy of this novel from Netgalley (thank you!). It was ranked highly on Goodreads and seemed to hold a lot of promise. The story follows an Irish immigrant family in New York and their trials and tribulations. I expected ups and downs, hilarity and tragedy. All I found within these pages were downs and tragedy.
I couldn’t finish the book. The characters were flat and the plot mundane. It was just unrelenting misery throughout the story – alcoholism, miscarriages, death, illness, bullying – and that was only the first quarter of the book! I struggled to find the warmth in the family that so many other reviewers referred to. They all just seemed completely unhappy to me.
I know I am in the minority, as most people loved this book – but I needed to see a glimmer of hope (or even a likeable character), and Matthew Thomas failed to deliver it.
I have not provided a star rating for We Are Not Ourselves, because it isn’t really fair to rate a book I haven’t completed. Perhaps there was some hope hiding in those vast amounts of pages, but I didn’t care enough about the characters to find out.