We Are Not Ourselves | Matthew Thomas | 2014 | 640 pages
In We Are Not Ourselves, gifted and new-to-the-scene novelist Matthew Thomas stitches together a beautiful tapestry of 20th-century American life. Irish American brawlers, teenage angst, devastating disease, the American health care system and the streets of New York City all play important roles in this tale which centers on Eileen Tumulty Leary, daughter of an Irish-American immigrant consumed with advancing up the ladder of American familial society, and her husband and son. The book tracks her life, including some of its most challenging chapters- the descent into alcoholism by her cherished mother and the care for Ed, her beloved husband, as he is physically and mentally destroyed by the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Throughout, Thomas, in this debut novel, masterfully balances admiration and disdain for his protagonist. Tales of Eileen’s kindness to friends and strangers alike and her admirable and raw determination to succeed are mingled with conflicting character developments which make the reader uncomfortable and intrigued at once. When Eileen’s white Queens neighborhood falters and scores of low-wage immigrants and minorities move in, her intense racism and classism is revealed. And as Ed’s deterioration accelerates, Eileen engages herself in a complicated and inappropriate relationship with his live-in male caretaker- at just the moment her husband needs her most. It all suggests a brilliant new writer in the mold of a Jonathan Lethem or a Chad Harbach deeply comfortable with his subjects and their travails.
An engrossing, affecting tale; you’ll be thinking about it long after the last page.