Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.
When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.
Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.
Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.
It’s really hard to know how to review this book. It’s beautifully written, moving, and sometimes very heartbreaking. The first part of We Are Not Ourselves introduces us to Eileen and Ed and how their relationship began. Learning about Eileen’s home life and childhood helps us understand her motivations and desires. We see why Eileen is so drawn toward Ed and I really enjoyed reading about the ups and downs in their relationship.
The second half of the book splits between the point of view of Eileen and her son Connell. In another author’s hands this could have been jarring or clunky, but Matthew Thomas uses it in the best possible way. We see the conflicts, relationships, and fears of each of the characters.
Since this book is character-driven instead of plot-driven, it can be a little slow. Nothing exciting happens, but we get to know these characters completely. I can’t stress enough how engaging and captivating this book is. Matthew Thomas is an author to watch.
And just as a bonus, Misha Collins (an actor who plays Castiel in Supernatural) fell in love with this book too. He’s having a Twitter bookclub for September that revolves around this book, so get your hands on it if you can and join in! https://www.facebook.com/officialmisha/posts/792717687416907