Published by Simon and Schuster on 8/19/2014
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.