Distiller: A.R. Braithwaite
Rating: 3/5 stars
We Are Not Ourselves
by Matthew Thomas
Simon & Schuster
August 19th, 2014
This novel follows Eileen Tumulty from childhood through adulthood. Her parents are Irish immigrants and their desires to gain footing in America, as well as have all an American lifestyle can offer, comes to form most of the decisions Eileen makes for herself. She wants to have all that her classy neighbors have and at times becomes blinded to anything else. She marries a scientist named Ed Leary, who seems like the perfect person to help her get everything she thinks she has ever wanted, but later finds that his aspirations don't match her own. She always wants more, but Ed seems content with what they have and it frustrates her to no end. When something dramatic shifts their small family, however, she will be faced with the possibility of never getting all that she wanted and finds that there are actually much more devastating things in life than falling short of the American Dream.
It took me a long time to get into this book and finish it, I felt like it dragged at times and didn't understand why some parts were deemed necessary to the story at all. However, it was beautifully and honestly written. I didn't like any of the characters, hated Eileen pretty much the whole time, but somehow Thomas achieved it with such finesse. The characters were real and I understood their flaws completely, I could see actual people doing these same things in the real world. I still didn't like them though. I felt like it took too long to get to the big family-changing event (which starts fairly early on and isn't fully revealed until about half way through). The ways in which all of the characters were selfish and didn't communicate with each other was annoying and got old fast. Just because I can imagine a real family with communication issues, who lie to each other and manipulate each other, doesn't mean I want to read over 600 pages about it.
One reason I'm giving it three stars instead of two is because the literal writing itself is really good (the word choice and how the words are all put together) and the big family-changing event is actually an interesting one. It is a scary one that most people are afraid of happening to themselves or a family member. The honesty of writing and how introspective the book made me also earned it the three star rating. I found myself wondering about my values and priorities: do I care more about getting the stuff of life or focusing on my familial relationships? It's easy to get caught up in the rat race of school, career, travel, cars, houses, etc. and forget that life's meaning doesn't come from any of those things. It comes from the relationships we have, the people we are going through the rat race with. This novel made me stop and take a closer look at the people I'm racing against and wonder why I'm racing at all. So, even though I found it dull and long at times, and none of the characters appealed to me, I still liked it in some ways. I won't bother reading it again and only recommend it to readers who find the American Dream/rat race of life something interesting to reflect more deeply about. I might recommend it to people who want to "have it all" as well, because this book proves that to "have it all" isn't necessarily what it seems.