Raised in the 1940s in the mostly Irish neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, by an alcoholic mother and a union-wage father, Eileen yearns for more from an early age. Driven by this longing, she places her stock and love in a handsome young scientist and with him begins a family. Once her childhood neighborhood begins to slip below her standards, she pushes against her husband’s reluctance to find a home elsewhere. When it becomes clear that his reticence is part of a deeper, more incomprehensible psychological shift, the bricks of the life she thought she was building begin to crumble, and she and her son are left to grapple with a husband and a father who is, beyond their control, fading away.
In this heartbreaking debut, Thomas masterfully paints the sprawling portrait of a family that heroically weathers an extraordinary storm. It is wise to the ways in which people happen, over time and with each other.
Reading certain books are so easy. You get to live in an imaginative world with all those characters, and when the book ends you move on to a different book and get immersed in another world. Then there are those books which leave you disturbed and thoughtful occupying a space in your mind long after you finished reading that last page. We are not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas is one of such kind.
When I started reading this one, I did enjoy Eileen’s early life and its details, but after a few pages of reading I honestly had to push myself to read through the pages. I had even thoughts about abandoning the book, but I kept on. After all, this book came with a lot of recommendations and I just had to know what all the hype was about it.
Then came the second half and everything changed. When Learys’ life seems to be doing OK with enough of their own complexities, darkness enters their lives – slowly at first and then with full force threatening to take over their lives completely. That is all I will say about the second half of the story.
The story picked up momentum and then you realize what kind of ride Matthew Thomas is taking you for, you are awed and scared. You are scared for Eileen and Connell, because you what know what is going to happen, but then they don’t know what their future is going to be. Imagine you as a reader knowing something and you just want to cry out to Eileen and make her see what is happening.
You see Eileen’s ambitions from early on and then you see some of them being lost on the way. The way she pushes herself, Ed and her son towards a path which she thought was the path to happiness. But Ed has his own ambitions and aspirations which might not be aligned with Eileen’s many a times. What happens then? Does they take the middle ground? Or does someone give up on their ambitions for the sake of love?
I think everyone calls this an epic story because of the way you live the life with Eileen, Ed and Connell. You are not a passive observer, you are an active but invisible character in the story itself, seeing everything and feeling everything that the family is going through.
You just have to read this book and experience it. I hope I was able to convince you all to pick up this amazing book for the characters and the writing.
Warning: It is a heavy subject.
Source: eARC from HarperCollins
First Release: August 19th 2014