I must confess that I am an avid Wally Lamb fan. I have read almost everything he’s written and especially liked I Know This Much is True. If you’ve never read Lamb, start with that one. For me, I was excited to pick up his latest to read on vacation – one of those great 600 pagers to sink into when you have a bit of time. I am a lover of big fat books and his usually are, but his editor should have stepped in with The Hour I First Believed because that one turned out to be rather unnecessarily bloated, even though it started out well. This one didn’t really drag on but I felt it fell a bit flat. I almost enjoyed it and really tried to. The narratives from different members of the family enriched the perspective and created a well rounded story. But his writing has turned a bit cliché which is disappointing. I don’t remember that from his earlier novels.
Lamb has a distinctive voice – caustic, breezy and sarcastic, but at the same time reflective. The main theme in all of his books, is this: “Life is messy, violent, confusing, and hopeful.” Water is fluid and shifting, as are our lives, Lamb seems to be saying. Especially when there are dark undercurrents at work.
“Anna Oh, mother of three and successful artist, is picking out her wedding dress for the second time in her life. In the pretty, rustic town of Three Rivers Connecticut, where she raised her kids, Anna is preparing to marry Viveca, who is the opposite of her ex-husband in almost every way. But the wedding provokes very mixed reactions, opening a Pandora’s Box of toxic secrets – dark and painful truths which will change the family dynamic forever.”
The thread that runs through the whole book is actually the power of art. Lamb celebrates the best kind of art, a subversive type which shakes complacency and causes a stir. Another thread is that of the “sins of the Fathers, visited upon the children”. What we experience in life helps to shape who we are but does not absolve us of responsibility for our actions. Lamb brings up an old saying that goes, “Destiny shuffles the cards, but we are the ones who must play the game.”