I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Friday, January 27, 2017

We Are Not Ourselves by Mattew Thomas

This novel is about a family and how it copes in good times and bad.  Eileen Tumulty dreamed of a better life than the one that her Irish immigrant parents had.  She spends her time taking care of them through drunken bouts and fights.  Her father was the man everyone went to for advice on anything and who could help you out if you needed a job.  He worked at a beer factory delivering beer barrels.  Her mother worked cleaned schools and such places for a pittance.  She took care of the house and watched them slowly die.  Eileen goes to nursing school and gets her masters degree in order to one day be in management.  She doesn't really want to go into nursing, but there were few jobs available to women in the early sixties, and besides she already knows how to be a nurse by taking care of her parents.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a Ph.D. student studying science, she is wary as she has been disappointed so many times by the hook ups her friends set up for her.  But Ed is different.  He is highly intelligent and could be the man to make all her dreams come true.  Ed, however, when offered a job by a pharmaceutical company after graduating turns down the lucrative offer in order to teach at a community college, Eileen starts to worry if her dreams of a home of her own will come true.  They live in a glorified apartment that you could call a house in Queens, that is shared by the owners who live on the other two floors.  After a miscarriage, they have a son, Collen, who becomes quite close to his father with their shared love of baseball.  Collen, however, is being bullied at school and refuses to defend himself, even though he has the strength too because he doesn't want to get in trouble and ruin his chances of getting into a good school.

When the neighborhood starts to become dangerous with gangs and foreigners and all of Eileen's friends have already left for the suburbs, she begins to dream of living in Bronxville and begins the process of convincing Ed to move which he is dead set against.  But Ed is starting to change.  He turns down a job as Dean of the college because he isn't ready to stop teaching those who really need it or doing his lab experiments.  Soon Ed starts to come home and put his headphones on and listen to his classical record collection.  He also becomes angry at the drop of a hat over the simplest things.  A riff forms between him and his family and Eileen begins to wonder if Ed is just having a mid-life crisis or whether he is losing his mind.

Ed surprisingly gives in to moving once Eileen finds a house, one that needs a lot of work.  Ed insists on doing the work himself and makes a mess of it, so Eileen has to call in professionals.  Ed is slowly getting worse and Eileen and Collen have no idea what is going on with him.  When she finally takes him to a doctor and gets a diagnosis, their lives change forever.  Ed has a year and a half to go to retire with full benefits and Eileen is determined to get him through this.  Collen is pretty useless.  He goes to college in Chicago in order to not have to go home.  He doesn't want to deal with his life back home.

This book will break your heart as Eileen has to give up on her some of her dreams and watch her husband slowly leave her.  You will want to smack Collen a little bit for being a selfish immature boy who can't be bothered to help his parents.  But he is a boy and lives to regret the things he didn't do.  At the heart of this novel is a regular family trying to cope with the unknowns of life and how they have dreams that can't always come true, no matter how hard you try.

She tried to imagine what it would feel like to have always been alone.  She decided that being alone to begin with would be easier than being left alone.  Everything would be easier than that.
---Matthew Thomas (We Are Not Ourselves p7)
The real world was so messy, the light imperfect, the paint chipped, the happiness only partial.
-- Matthew Thomas (We Are Not Ourselves p 77)
The point wasn’t always to do what you want.  The point was to do what you did and to do it well.                                                                    
--   Matthew Thomas (We Are Not Ourselves p 554)
Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/We-Are-Not-Ourselves-Novel-ebook/dp/B00GEEB2WG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1485532113&sr=1-1&keywords=we+are+not+ourselves

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