Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed

Honestly, I could not believe how long was Wally Lamb's newest novel, The Hour I First Believed, the current book club selection. It's way too strong to say that I hated this book. But I didn't love it, and by the end I was seriously cranky about it.

Am I the only person who thinks that Lamb's editors were too cowed by his previous sales figures to insist that he cut fully two hundred pages out of this beast?

It's fashionable to call fat books "sprawling," maybe "layered," or even "multi-faceted," but I'm telling you that The Hour I First Believed is a bloated mess that buries within it two solid novels and the germ of at least another handful. I think it was daring to take on the Columbine shootings, and I appreciated the link to New Orleans, and the veteran of the Iraq war was interesting, and the history of US women's prisons had potential, and then the Quirk family letters plus diaries from the 1860s to 1880s were ....

Could someone please just get this guy an editor? His characters are believable, his prose solid, his dialogue very good -- but this is a novel he should NOT have been allowed to get away with.

Comments

Anonymous said…
so true, i'm not certain I'm up to finishing the dam thing, the cliche 'hiding one's light under a bushel" comes to mind, i feel he's dragging the reader in far too many directions
Bt said…
Just go ahead and finish it. It is not that bad. But I agree, it is way too long. And Wally took on too many issues at the same time. His Mo/Columbine experience would have been enough to write about. And why in the world was all that superfluous research material (The dairies of Harris/Klebold, for example) included in the book? And then the dragging stories about his ancestors.
I've read somewhere that most of the bestsellers are just that best sellers, but they're rarely read entirely.
Also, I don't think most of that sexual, masturbation and whatever eles "dirty" stuff was unnecessary. The scenes added nothing to the understanding of the story's meaning. It was just there to feed us "voyeuristic" readers some smut -- which I do not appreciate at all.
This was the first and last novel 'll read by the author.
Oops, sorry for the long post.
richard said…
Um, I did finish it. Hence the comments about how I felt by the end of it.

I'm feeling a little forgiving about the book now that I've had time to recover, though. I appreciated what he was trying to do, with the multiple narratives, but really, it just didn't work.

The sexual stuff, though: I've forgotten all about that! Must not have much of an impression on me.... Do you mean sex with the female lodger, or more than that? Usually I think such things fit a book OK, but I just don't recall any of it standing out in this one.
Bt said…
I was actually responding to Anonymous saying he/she was not certain whether [he] was "up to finishing" the book.
Well, I am talking about all the"jacking-off", "stiff' ones and so on. I got the message after the first time he described it. Maybe, I am too sensitive, but I hate to be turned into someone watching others' sexual activities. What he actually does is the same Mo's dad did to his daughter: he forces the reader to watch his indecent acts. Many authors do that nowadays -- I gather because they hope to draw more readers by aping the movie business.
I may look prudish, but I don't think I am. It's just that too much of anything simply is -- well -- too much. lol
On a more positive note: I do like your blog a lot.
richard said…
Right, I missed the reference to Anon's comment - my mistake.

As for author-as-Mo's-father: well, I do think we're supposed to recognize the failings and human frailties of our narrator, so I suppose this could be the most extreme of those, but I doubt it. It felt amateurish to me; certainly I've read books where skin/sex is integral to the plot AND handled really well, but not here!

Thanks for liking the blog, too: always nice to hear that sort of thing.
Bt said…
Alright, here comes a question which you as an independent (If I got that right) reviewer will probably be able to answer honestly: What or who makes such a poorly written book a bestseller? And who writes the laudatory reviews that lure readers into buying it?
I try to support contemporary authors by buying their books, but I do regret having spent $17 on such a flop as "The Hour ..."
Regarding the blog remark: I have one of my own (about music, the other passion of mine.) So I know an occasional thumps-up does feel good.
richard said…
Yeah, I'm independent -- no free books, no payments, no affiliations.

Why do poorly written books sell? Same reason that dodgy music sells: there's a niche that needs filling. The problem comes when those occupying the specific niche have broader cultural influence (either through demographics, like baby-boomers; through the vagaries of taste, like whichever flavour of teen interests it is this month; or through cultural role, like Oprah). All these groups and individuals are perfectly capable of liking good music and well-written books, but all that's really necessary is that a nerve be touched.

And once that nerve is touched, sales go wildly out of proportion to whatever standard of non-immediate judgment you might want to apply. Will these books you're talking about endure, finding generations of readers? Will they attain cult status, finding a small number of passionate readers? Not relevant.

Right now, they're about topics important to (some of) us, characters appealing to (some of) us, places interesting to (some of) us, events meaningful for (some of) us. That's where sales comes from.

Whoa, long post.

Where's your blog located, if you don't mind sharing the address?
Bt said…
Interesting! Your emphasis on "some of us" reminds me of a discussion during one of my comparative lit. classes (years ago.) We agreed to some extend that one parameter defining literature in general is that it tackles societal issues on a more or less universal level ...
Anyway, I am returning to my second-hand copy of "The Selected Works Of D. H. Lawrence."

Thank you so much for your responses.

here's the link to my blog http://raggedy-soundofsoul.blogspot.com/

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