What I Am: Reading this Week

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
This is a story about a fictional couple and their lives in the aftermath of a real event: Columbine. Caelum Quirk is an English teacher at the school; his third wife Maureen is a part-time school nurse. The day of the shootings, Caelum is in New England dealing with the death of his only relative, his Aunt Lolly; Maureen is in the library, where most of the children were killed that day, and where Harris and Klebold committed suicide. She survives the day by hiding in a cabinet, but she suffers severe PTSD.

I am about two-thirds of the way through the book. It is compelling. Several other storylines are woven into the lives of Caelum and Maureen: Caelum’s childhood as the son of an alcoholic man who commits suicide and a woman so damaged by her marriage she can barely tolerate raising her only son; the couple’s relationship with Velvet Hoon, another collateral casualty of Columbine — and more; the Mick couple, a bi-racial man and his white wife fleeing the destruction of Katrina; and the family of Morgan S, a teenage boy who crosses paths with Maureen with devastating consequences.

Wally Lamb has only written three novels, and I have been amazed by them all. His protagonists are broken men and women trying to piece their lives back together. Their humanity is so naked and raw, that I cannot help rooting for them. They are far from perfect, but I don’t find them unlikable.

What I find especially touching about The Hour I First Believed, told primarily through the first person perspective of Caelum, is the intense introspective nature of the writing. He knows how flawed he is, but he works to be better, to be strong for his wife, to help himself so he can help her. He takes missteps along the way, of course. He also discovers in his aunt’s papers the history of his family, which provides more insight into his own character.

The book is literate, with black humor and great dialogue. I don’t know where the story of Caelum and Maureen ends up; I am hoping for the best. It doesn’t have to be a conclusive ending, but I have to admit to hoping for a happy one. I’ve read Lamb before, though, so I can’t hold out high hopes for that.

****

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Suggested to me by Kelly at Peace, Love, and Flowers. I have to thank her for that.

This is a gothic novel set in the early 20th century. It has all the requisite elements: a single woman with a secret; an elderly woman with more secrets; secret rooms and passageways; ghosts; madwomen (and men); orphans (of the literal and figurative types); and startling revelations. Beautifully written with its own humor, the story recalls the classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I was thoroughly engaged and delighted.

****

“A Mother’s Day Uprising” from Newsweek.com

I can’t quite grasp the tone of this article. Satire? Commentary? Humor? Complaint Journalism? Encouragement? Commiseration?

I don’t know when I knew it was okay to not be and do everything — to not be Super Woman. After I became a mother, certainly. When I went back to work for sure. I try to keep my household running — that means decent meals, laundry, and minimum clutter (DearDR is helping more and more with that last one, because it drives him bonkers). I make sure my daughters know they are loved; I also make sure they are fed, bathed, read to; I pack lunches; I underline show & tell or other special school events on the calendar. I juggle our finances. I take the kids to the doctors and get their prescriptions filled; I do most of the shopping. I continue to tend to my relationship with my husband.

Do I do it “all”? No. I have yet to sign either of the girls up for “extracurricular” activities like swim lessons or Mommy & Me classes. The dust in my home is truly shameful. My sinks are a bit sticky. I have too many girls’ clothes of varying sizes all over the upstairs, too many clean clothes still in laundry baskets.

I feel I’m doing the best I can with what I got. Most days, this is perfectly okay. Sometimes, it’s a little embarrassing — I would be mortified if you, dear reader, came to my house unannounced. Occasionally, DearDR and I fight about it, and, occasionally, I find it depressing.

But I just refuse to stress out about it anymore. That is definitely not worth my time. I think it will get better as the girls get older. Some days, even now, I can see it’s getting easier for me, and different as well.

What are your expectations of yourself? As a woman, as a mother? Have they changed for you over the years? Do you think this mothering gig will get easier? Harder? Just different?

And what are you reading this week?