We Are Not Ourselves

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Published by Simon & Schuster on August 19th 2014
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 620
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.

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.

We Are Not Ourselves was a very hard book to rate. On one hand I love the historical aspects of it, the writing made it come alive and the characters seemed incredibly real. On the other hand I really disliked the characters and the…plot? I’m hesitant to call it a plot because I feel like a plot inspires visions of a rollercoaster of emotions and the storyline was very linear.

When we first meet Eileen as a child, I feel bad for her but she seems like a strong person. She seems resigned to her fate but motivated to change it when she can. I know that they say you grow up to be like your parents, but I feel like she was so hyper aware of how her parents were and how much she didn’t want to be like them, that it was odd that she grew up to be like them. Maybe it was because she was so focused on her financial stability and outward appearances that she didn’t nurture her caring side, or maybe it’s just a sign of those times, but her attitude just didn’t sit right with me. Especially her interactions with her son. A big part of my dislike for this book was because of Eileen, and although that means I likely wouldn’t recommend the book, the fact that Thomas’ writing evoked such strong feelings from me means it was written well.

Like I said before, the plot wasn’t much of a plot. From the outset I kind of guessed what was going to happen. When Ed started to decline and Eileen basically out and out ignored it because she was too focused on everyone judging them on it, so she didn’t get Ed the help he needed, I wanted to reach into the book and shake her. I get that this is in a different time, so appearances mattered a lot more (or I assume they did), but her attitude around the whole situation just frustrated me. She spent the entire book being miserable, judgy, and snarky towards everyone when if she’d put caring for her family above everything else, she could have had a much better time. Which again, the fact that I got so annoyed at her as a character means the book was well written. Not every character has to be loveable.

So all in all, would I reread We Are Not Ourselves? No. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Do I still consider it a decent read? Begrudgingly.

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.

“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.”

One StarOne StarOne Star

11/22/63

11/22/63 by Stephen King
Published by Pocket Books on January 26th 2016
Genres: fiction
Pages: 1120
Goodreads

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

This was SUCH an interesting one for me.

Stephen King is a writer that I’ve always wanted to love, but I’ve never jived with any of his books. I often find them repetitive and I’m not a huge fan of his endings. Which sucks, because I love the ideas behind his novels, just not the actual execution of them. But every now and then I get the urge to pick up one of his books to just try.

Enter 11/22/63.

I love historical fiction. I love conspiracy theories. I love the idea of time travel. This book was like the trifecta of literature goodness for me. I’m especially a sucker for JFK conspiracy theories; in my American history class in high school I did a half hour presentation on whether or not I thought Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. It’s still one of my favourite projects.

Anyway, going into 11/22/63, I was excited. I really wanted to like it. I kept whispering “Please Mr. King, don’t fuck this up”, as if he could go back in time to rewrite the novel to my liking if it didn’t suit me. Because, you know, I am that important of a reader to him.

But the thing was, I didn’t have to try and like it. I genuinely enjoyed it. Like, really enjoyed it. It’s a mammoth of a book, but I flew through the pages. I needed to know what was going to happen. Was Jake Epping going to be able to stop Oswald? What would that change in the future? Would he be able to go back to the future if he was successful or would the portal cease to exist? Was he actually just going to be a mental patient in some hospital who was making this all up (View Spoiler »? So many questions kept me anxiously reading the entire time.

I liked Jake Epping. I don’t have much else to say about him, really. View Spoiler »

I really, really enjoyed how detailed the descriptions for the Land of Ago was. I wasn’t alive in the 50s and 60s, but the details were so rich and inviting that I wish I had been. I’d especially liked to have tried an honest to goodness rootbeer from back then. By the end of the book I wished I could travel back in time just to experience what Jake had experienced. It sounded positively delightful.

I was super happy about the ending too, which as I’ve said, are normally let downs for me. I was glad this one did not disappoint. I was very interested to see how it would end since there were so many possibilities, but I think this was the right one, just based off of who Jake Epping was as a man. View Spoiler »

I’m so glad I finally picked up 11/22/63, and it’s given me hope to continue testing more of King’s writing.

Have you read it? What did you think?

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

By Gaslight

By Gaslight by Steven Price
Published by McClelland & Stewart on August 23rd 2016
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 731
Goodreads

London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures -- a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.

I dnf’d it.

If you’re wondering, earlier this month (last week? Time is a thing I can no longer keep track of) I didn’t know if I should continue By Gaslight or not.

Reasoning: pacing was slow, writing style (no quotations and a TON of run on sentences) were annoying the poop out of me.

Funny thing is, I actually continued reading it after I posted. I’d rented it from the library, so why not?

A couple of days before it was set to go back from the library, I went to renew it online and found out I couldn’t. I looked at the book, looked back at the notice saying I couldn’t renew it, looked at how many pages I had left, and then flipped to the end of the book and read the ending.

It seemed like an okay book, but again, had it been half the length, it probably would have been much better.

Oh well. Moving on.

To DNF or Not to DNF

At what point in a book do you decide to close it and put it down for good?

I am having issues with this question right now. I don’t know at what point I should stop trudging through a book.

Here’s the scenario. I’m reading By Gaslight, which I was so excited to read when it first came out. I will admit, mostly because of the cover. But the premise sounded fantastic as well. It’s set in Victorian London and I’m a sucker for some good historical fiction.

There are a couple of things that bother me.

  1. The pacing is slow AF. By Gaslight taps out at 600 pages and it could easily be half that while still retaining 90% of the story, in my opinion. I think it’s so long because there’s two narrators (so far) and there’s a lot of flashbacks.
  2. THERE ARE NO QUOTATION MARKS. Why is this a style?? I find it hard to figure out who is talking sometimes. I especially find it hard to figure out which portions are talking portions and which are internal monologue portions since both can be in one sentence. It may not seem like a huge problem, but it irks me. And it means I have to reread some passages.
  3. There are a ton of run on sentences. While this is probably lends itself to the style of Victorian London, the content editor in me is silently screaming.
  4. I’m no longer super invested in what is happening.

Despite all of the above, a part of me is still curious as to where it goes. I may not be invested in the characters, but I still find myself wondering what happens next. I’m standing alongside Pinkerton or Foole and experiencing things as they are; finding out pieces of the puzzle as they do. It’s a slow burn, but I don’t know if it’ll be a good pay off at the end.

Is this just me being very impatient? Should I wait it out? I have no idea.

Let me know how you decide to DNF things!

-M