Author: Matthew Thomas
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: August 2014
Genre: Adult Fiction/Contemporary
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Synopsis can be found here.
I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
SPOILERS. Usually I try to stay spoiler free but I can’t honestly review the book without them.
Eileen grows up poor, always looking for a better life. She puts her mother to bed after she’s drank her fill, she helps her father around the house. She saves and studies and meets Ed Leary when she’s on her way to become a nurse. Ed is everything she wanted and they marry with big dreams. They eventually have a son Connell. The story of this family is powerful and poignant, displaying the life so many of Americans fall into and stumble through.
I’ll be honest. I had a really hard time with the book for lots of reasons.
First off, Eileen and Connell are really hard to stomach. While they have slight, glimmering moments in each of their stories, for the most part I despised them both. Not just their characters but how awful they treated each other. Eileen’s path into middle age has changed her into a shallow and cold woman, the tone going as far to call Connell “the boy” every time she thinks of him. She’s harder on him, not caring or supportive. Sometimes, it’s confusing why she bothered to have a child at all. Connell on the other hand is equally inadequate as a son. He’s selfish and a coward. Do you know who I did love? Ed. Ed Leary, Eileen’s husband and Connell’s father. And of course, the good ones always have something bad happen to them.
Which brings me to the big reason why I had trouble with this book. Through most of the marketing and many of the reviews, We Are Not Ourselves rarely states what the big secret of the family’s turmoil is. And that secret, dear readers, is Alzheimer’s Disease. Ed suffers from it, at a very early age. And his wife and pathetic child have to come to terms with it and care for him.
I’ll be honest, if I knew it was about Alzheimer’s Disease, I wouldn’t have requested it. It runs on one side of my family and I have a deep sense of fear from this diabolical disease. That one day, someone I love will not remember me. How it eats away at your brain, at who the person is, at their very nature. I was sad and dismayed when that realization kicked in. Yes, I could have stopped. But I was already over halfway through the book, having invested so much time listening to their story and I wanted to see what happened. While I understand why people aren’t mentioning it, I wanted to say what it was about in my review. Because I wish I had known before I picked it up.
I liked how we flowed in and out of their lives. But as I just said, not only was I submerged in these hugely flawed characters but I was also swimming in this very uncomfortable and too realistic world. I was eager to listen to the audiobook every time I was in the car. But I was also heartbroken, on the verge of tears towards the end, unable to separate this fictional story from the great real fear I have of encountering this disease. The ending was satisfying, in a very raw and bittersweet sort of way. The brilliance of the book is Thomas’s way of accurately depicting family dynamic during the trials of life and sharpening the lens on certain moments of grief, guilt and love making the reader enormously uncomfortable by these intimate moments. And perhaps also by how closely they resemble real life.
It’s an intriguing book that I think people will want to read. There are a lot of other themes, elements, tones that I should talk about but I can’t. I’m sorry but all I can think about is the disease. And perhaps that is a reason enough to read it. Thomas does a very convincing job of describing Ed’s deterioration. Broke my heart. The story is character driven as we go through many years with them. It can be slow in times, especially the beginning. But it is well thought out and planned.
Overall, We Are Not Ourselves is worth reading and digesting in a patient and thoughtful way. Perhaps alone and with a steeled heart.