We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel. Matthew Thomas. Simon and Schuster. August 2014. 640 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781476756660.
Eileen Tumulty grows up with alcoholic parents but with the cultural promise of the American Dream. Work hard and make enough money to have a beautiful home, nice “things,” and enough to educate one’s children so they will have to work less hard for the same dream. For some it happens; for others events and circumstances provide impediments galore. Yet that doesn’t diminish the Dream; it just means one works around those bumps in the road, sublimates them into something larger or surrenders. Eileen Tumulty will never, ever surrender!
Eileen’s journey begins in the early 1940s and continues to the present. She meets a man whom she thinks is totally different from her father. Ed is a research scientist who seems polite and sensitive. Yet after they marry, he becomes obsessed with his work and won’t spend an extra penny unless Eileen pushes and pushes and pushes. Here is what makes this novel unique – while Eileen’s resentments and frustrations accumulate, she at pivotal points remembers why she loved this soft, gentle man and how what is so much imperfection is actually what makes him reliable and perfect. That is the key to all the disasters and shocks that follow.
Eileen and Ed have a son, Connell, and after much struggle, Eileen can say she now owns the home she always dreamed of. One is almost waiting for the Damocles sword to fall and so it does! Ed, the brilliant scientist, research man and Professor is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The rest of the novel is about cherishing every moment as special and dealing with a devastating disease that breaks down the brain, nervous system and then the body. Eileen is determined that Connell will be educated and have a chance at that dream; but this is hard to maintain when he watches his father’s demise, then swerves elsewhere and finally finds hope in love to continue on his own dream. The author leaves nothing to the imagination and presents an issue rarely discussed about this disease, the fear that it generates in children who wonder if they are carrying the same gene that will mar their future with this hideous disease.
We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel is a long, engaging story that one can’t put down. It’s drama lies in the everyday realities where one tries to make sense of the incomprehensible, where one struggles not to sink in despair at the formidable obstacles life offers, and where one truly loves “for better or worse” while still striving for more. The dream is nothing without the love and vision of the dreamers and therein lies the rub! Lovely, Matthew Thomas and fine, fine writing!