We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew ThomasWe Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Published by Simon and Schuster on 8/19/2014
Source: Publisher
Pages: 640
Buy from IndieBound


Raised in Woodside, Queens in the 1940’s, Eileen Tumulty always planned to rise above the working class life she was born into and believes finding the right husband is key. When she meets Ed Leary, a scientist deep in research, she sees their ideal future laid out ahead of her. After their marriage and the birth of their son Connell, Eileen continuously reaches for higher ranks in her nursing career while Ed settles into life as a community college professor. While she pushes him to pursue more, Eileen soon realizes that Ed’s stubborn personality is the result of a much deeper demon that will ultimately reroute the family’s charted course in unimaginable ways.

The pitching of We Are Not Ourselves as epic and sprawling at BEA’s Speed Dating event had me absolutely sold, as I rarely meet a chunky family saga I don’t love. It’s clear Thomas has enormous talent and is particularly adept at crawling inside the minds of his characters. But despite its moments of brilliance, most of my reading experience was spent wanting to like the novel and waiting for a shift that would make the deep trudging worth it. Sadly, that never came.

Though Eileen’s childhood does have an impact on her determination and choices as she ages, the overlong first section detailing her early life feels slightly tacked on to the Leary’s story, which takes some time to get moving itself. Thomas does an incredible job building a shadowy sense of dread around the family as Ed’s quirks become increasingly strange, culminating in a chest-tightening classroom experience that allows Connell to see his father truly falling apart. From there, however, We Are Not Ourselves begins to feel repetitive. Surely, repetition is a daily reality for anyone in Eileen’s place, but it’s something I began to feel in the act of reading rather than the emotions being portrayed.

While I love big, sprawling books that allow you to dip into different corners of history, with the close focus of We Are Not Ourselves on a single family and not the society around them, I would have preferred a shorter novel.

But before you toss this one aside, I’d take a peek at a few other reviews. I’m definitely in the minority.

Books Speak Volumes

Lakeside Musing

Sarah’s Book Shelves

That’s What She Read

  • readersrespite

    Interestingly, yours is the second thoughtful review in as many days that gives me quite solid and well laid-out reasons as to why it wasn’t coming together for you. And I am completely understanding why — some readers might be perfectly okay with that and really enjoy the book regardless. I, however, would end up feeling like you, I suspect. Thank you for putting this review out there — I’m a fan of thoughtful reviews, as you know. ;)

    • Thanks – I think I even had myself convinced I was enjoying it because I wanted to like it so much, but I just need a wider scope on my big books. I’m glad it’s something I know to watch for now, though!

  • It’s so disappointing when you’re excited about a book and it falls so flat. I know you were looking forward to this one, too. :(

    • It really is! I’d been looking forward to it for months, so I was pretty bummed. Thankfully, I had a few good surprises this year to make up for it.

  • It wasn’t quite as good as I expected either, given all the advance hoopla. For me, parts of it were absolutely enthralling . . . and then other parts tedious. I came away thinking a different structure and a tighter focus might have served this novel well.

    • I wondered if maybe it was just the hype getting to me but, like you said, I think the structure and focus would have felt off regardless of how much I knew about it before.

  • As the Crowe Flies

    Your thoughts mirror mine exactly. I *wanted* to like it but it never clicked with me. I put it down after 75 pages. That’s the limit I give books these days before giving up on it.

    • I went on a relentless DNF streak a few months ago and I was a much happier reader. I need to remind myself that I do best when I give myself permission to set things down (especially months like this with SO many books coming out).

  • I LOVE this post. Not because you didn’t enjoy as much as you wanted to but because I have always had trouble doing a review when I didn’t like a read. You expressed all my feelings exactly. I put the book down at about the halfway mark and it led to my “reading slump” I expressed in August. I, too, was hopeful at BEA but it just didn’t work for me in reality. This post has given me a new way to approach less than stellar reviews with a different outlook. :)

    • It’s something I’ve struggled with a bit, too, and I don’t always review when I don’t love something (sometimes I have a harder time pinpointing exactly why I disliked a book), but I do think it’s important to share.

  • Words for Worms

    It definitely had that meander-y “where is this going” vibe. I mean, I liked it, but I totally see where you’re coming from on this. It did feel like almost two separate stories tacked together in some ways.

    • Yeah, I think I would have been more likely to enjoy it if it had either cast a wider net (following more of the family mentioned in the beginning) or had been shorter and just focused on the Leary family.

  • Love how you reviewed this – I felt the same way about ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. You know it’s good, and you know everyone loved it, but it just doesn’t quite click for you. It happens. No shame! ;)

    • Thank you. It’s really frustrating, especially when you don’t want to give up on a book because you keep waiting for it to work!

  • Ti Reed

    Many have read this one recently. I am not sure it’s for me, only because the subject matter seems very heavy and real to me. I can read dark stuff but when it’s realistic dark, I have to pick and choose.

  • Silver’s Reviews

    I am on the fence about this book, but I had a giveaway for it courtesy of the publisher and had 93 entries so it is a popular book.

    Thanks for your great review and honest opinion.


  • JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    Sorry this one didn’t live up to all the hype for you. I loved it, despite the emotional toll.

    • It’s definitely a powerful story and I can totally see why it’s appealing to so many people, so I’m glad you’re one of them!

  • I really appreciate your review of this, Shannon, because I wasn’t sure if it was for me or not. Now I think I might just keep an eye out for it at the library instead of buying it. Thanks for the respectful and honest review :)

  • I appreciate your honesty! And, I completely agree with you on the first section about Eileen’s childhood…I was close to putting it down and really couldn’t figure out where the book was going at that point (I went into it pretty blind about the plot). I also agree that it wasn’t the “sprawling, multigenerational saga” that the marketing indicated. However, once the story delved into Ed’s issues and their marriage (and particularly Connell’s reaction), I found it really emotionally powerful. So much so that I was drained at the end, but I think that means it really affected me and is a good thing. Thank you so much for linking to my review!!

  • I need to have this one read in the next couple of weeks. Here we go!

  • I could tell this was a book a lot of bloggers I know were going to be picking up, but it just sounded a bit too depressing for me. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work out for you, but I enjoyed your review :)

  • I’ve had a tough time finishing this one. Maybe someday… For now, I am going to shelve it.