The Hour I First Believed: A Novel

The Hour I First Believed: A Novel

by Wally Lamb


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Wally Lamb's two previous novels, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, struck a chord with readers. They responded to the intensely introspective nature of the books, and to their lively narrative styles and biting humor. One critic called Wally Lamb a "modern-day Dostoyevsky," whose characters struggle not only with their respective pasts, but with a "mocking, sadistic God" in whom they don't believe but to whom they turn, nevertheless, in times of trouble (New York Times).

In The Hour I First Believed, Lamb travels well beyond his earlier work and embodies in his fiction myth, psychology, family history stretching back many generations, and the questions of faith that lie at the heart of everyday life. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, at once a meditation on the human condition and an unflinching yet compassionate evocation of character.

When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.

As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary -- and American.

The Hour I First Believed is a profound and heart-rending work of fiction. Wally Lamb proves himself a virtuoso storyteller, assembling a variety of voices and an ensemble of characters rich enough to evoke all of humanity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060988432
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/04/2009
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 178,777
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Wally Lamb is the author of five New York Times bestselling novels: She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True, The Hour I First Believed, Wishin’ and Hopin’, and We Are Water. His first two works of fiction, She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both #1 New York Times bestsellers and
selections of Oprah’s Book Club. Lamb edited Couldn’t Keep It to Myself and I’ll Fly Away, two volumes of essays from students in his writing workshop at York Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in Connecticut, where he has been a volunteer facilitator for seventeen years.


Willimantic, Connecticut

Date of Birth:

October 17, 1950

Place of Birth:

Norwich, Connecticut


B.A. in Education, University of Connecticut, 1972; M.A. in Education, 1977; M.F.A. in Writing, Vermont College, 1984

Read an Excerpt

The Hour I First Believed

A Novel

By Wally Lamb
Copyright © 2008

Wally Lamb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-039349-6

Chapter One They were both working their final shift at Blackjack Pizza that night, although nobody but the two of them realized it was that. Give them this much: they were talented secret-keepers. Patient planners. They'd been planning it for a year, hiding their intentions in plain sight on paper, on videotape, over the Internet. In their junior year, one had written in the other's yearbook, "God, I can't wait till they die. I can taste the blood now." And the other had answered, "Killing enemies, blowing up stuff, killing cops! My wrath will be godlike!"

My wrath will be godlike: maybe that's a clue. Maybe their ability to dupe everyone was their justification. If we could be fooled, then we were all fools; they were, therefore, superior, chaos theirs to inflict. But I don't know. I'm just one more chaos theorist, as lost in the maze as everyone else.

It was Friday, April 16, 1999, four days before they opened fire. I'd stayed after school for a parent conference and a union meeting and, in between, had called Maureen to tell her I'd pick up takeout. Blackjack Pizza was between school and home.

It was early still. The Friday-night pizza rush hadn't begun. He was at the register, elbows against the counter, talking to a girl in a hairdresser's smock. Or not talking, pretty much. There was a cell phone on the counter, and he kept tapping it with his index finger to make it spin-kept looking at the revolving cell phone instead of at the girl. I remember wondering if I'd just walked in on a lover's spat. "I better get back," the girl said. "See you tomorrow." Her smock said "Great Clips," which meant she worked at the salon next door-the place where Maureen went.

"Prom date?" I asked him. The big event was the next night at the Design Center in Denver. From there, the kids would head back to school for the all-night post-prom party, which I'd been tagged to help chaperone.

"I wouldn't go to that bogus prom," he said. He called over his shoulder. "How's his half-mushroom-half-meatball coming?" His cohort opened the oven door and peered in. Gave a thumbs-up.

"So tell me," I said. "You guys been having any more of your famous Blackjack flour wars?"

He gave me a half-smile. "You remember that?"

"Sure. Best piece you wrote all term."

He'd been in my junior English class the year before. A grade-conscious concrete sequential, he was the kind of kid who was more comfortable memorizing vocab definitions and lines from Shakespeare than doing the creative stuff. Still, his paper about the Blackjack Pizza staff's flour fights, which he'd shaped as a spoof on war, was the liveliest thing he'd written all term. I remember scrawling across his paper, "You should think about taking creative writing next year." And he had. He was in Rhonda Baxter's class. Rhonda didn't like him, though-said she found him condescending. She hated the way he rolled his eyes at other kids' comments. Rhonda and I shared a free hour, and we often compared notes about the kids. I neither liked nor disliked him, particularly. He'd asked me to write him a letter of recommendation once. Can't remember what for. What I do recall is sitting there, trying to think up something to say.

He rang up my sale. I handed him a twenty. "So what's next year looking like?" I asked. "You heard back from any of the schools you applied to?"

"I'm joining the Marines," he said.

"Yeah? Well, I heard they're looking for a few good men." He nodded, not smiling, and handed me my change.

His buddy ambled over to the counter, pizza box in hand. He'd lost the boyish look I remembered from his freshman year. Now he was a lanky, beak-nosed adult, his hair tied back in a sorry-looking ponytail, his chin as prominent as Jay Leno's. "So what's your game plan for next year?" I asked him.

"University of Arizona."

"Sounds good," I said. I gave a nod to the Red Sox cap he was wearing. "You follow the Sox?"

"Somewhat. I just traded for Garciaparra in my fantasy league."

"Good move," I said. "I used to go to Sox games all the time when I was in college. Boston University. Fenway was five minutes away."

"Cool," he said.

"Maybe this is their year, huh?"

"Maybe." He didn't sound like he gave a shit either way.

He was in Rhonda's creative writing class, too. She'd come into the staff room sputtering about him one day. "Read this," she said. "Is this sick or what?" He'd written a two-page story about a mysterious avenger in a metal-studded black trench coat. As jocks and "college preps" leave a busy bar, he pulls pistols and explosives out of his duffel bag, wastes them, and walks away, smiling. "Do you think I should call his parents?" Rhonda had asked.

I'd shrugged. "A lot of the guys write this kind of crap. Too many video games, too much testosterone. I wouldn't worry about it. He probably just needs a girlfriend." She had worried, though, enough to make that call. She'd referred to the meeting, a week or so later, as "a waste of time."

The door banged open; five or six rowdy kids entered Blackjack. "Hey, I'll see you later," I said.

"Later," he said. And I remember thinking he'd make a good Marine. Clean-cut, conscientious, his ironed T-shirt tucked neatly into his wrinkle-free shorts. Give him a few years, I figured, and he'd probably be officer material.

At dinner that night, Maureen suggested we go out to a movie, but I begged off, citing end-of-the-week exhaustion. She cleaned up, I fed the dogs, and we adjourned to our separate TVs. By ten o'clock, I was parked on my recliner, watching Homicide with the closed-caption activated, my belly full of pizza. There was a Newsweek opened on my lap for commercial breaks, a Pete's Wicked ale resting against my crotch, and a Van Morrison CD reverberating inside my skull: Astral Weeks, a record that had been released in 1968, the year I turned seventeen.


Excerpted from The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb Copyright © 2008 by Wally Lamb. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Hour I First Believed 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 659 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a testament to our past and future.
From Columbine, 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, the story relates the collateral damage done that no one acknowledges. An emotional but fulfilling read.
Don't miss it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just as everyone else did, I excitedly awaited the arrival of this book. Wally Lamb had done it again...he's written a riveting story! The characters were very interesting. I loved how Caelum learned about his family history. It was all fascinating. My eyes were opened to the PTSD the Columbine survivors experience. Thank you, Mr. Lamb. Nothing else I read this year will be this well-written.
mamabird3 More than 1 year ago
There are just not enough words to describe how emotional this book was for me. I read through my tears, hoped for the best and had to set it down every so often to let it all soak in. The Moment I First Believed is now at the top of my favorites list.
MarefitzyMD More than 1 year ago
I could not wait for Lamb's new book. I was very dissappointed--I had to trudge through it. The main characters are not likeable at all. I never really felt for either of them, they are both extremely selfish. I perked up when I started reading about the other family ( with the divorced mom and 2 sons) but that part was too brief. I think Lamb's overall idea for a plot was good but this story is too long and too convoluted. I just kept asking myself " how much more can happen to these people?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Wally Lamb but I thought this book was a mess. I had a hard time keeping Lolly, Lydia and Lillian straight - I mean give me a fighting chance man! I didn't like either of the main characters and found the whole thing laborious. It gives me no pleasure to say this because I think Lamb is an exceptional writer and She's Come Undone has a place of honor in my permanent library. This book just missed all the marks for me. Sorry Wally!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do not recommend The Hour I First Believed. I found it a painful experience to finish the book. I did not develop any emotional ties to the characters and therefore could not identify with their experiences. The plot rambles on leaving the reader crying out for some type of ending. Normally a series of events in a book contain relevance because they connect to the other events in the book. Not so for this book. The inside cover compels the reader with its connection to the Columbine High School shootings, but that only serves to put one of the main characters into psychological turmoil and more plot. And the ending is disappointing and ambiguous. It's as if the author is trying too hard to make this a great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a HUGE fan of Wally Lamb but I was a little skeptical about purchasing this book after reading several negative reviews from readers. I finally caved in and literally could not put this book down. The Hour I First Believed is amazing! The characters are real, raw, and captivating. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is not offended by true human emotion. Excellent!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wally Lamb has done it again. His book is a masterpiece. It held my interest throughout and kept me wanting more. Like the maze on the Quirk farm, the book takes you through many avenues and plotlines, but you will find yourself finally at the heart of the maze. I had tears in my eyes at the end of the book.
MARIETTAGIRL More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. It was almost overwhelming. The events just keep rolling out in such a way that takes your breath away. It isn't that they are unbelievable. It is that they are reality. These circumstances could actually happen to real people and the fact that they all happened to one couple makes it sad, but poignant.

Lamb's style of writing is amazing. No other writer can capture me from the first page like he can. He pulls me in and wrings me out to dry by the end. Same thing happened in "She's Come Undone" and "I Know This Much is True". I only wish I did not have to wait so long in between novels, but if he wrote faster he would be on that "book-mill" circuit that has created all the other mindless, same story just change the names books that are out there.

Keep writing Wally - love it!
JHK1216 More than 1 year ago
I loved Wally Lamb's other 2 books. This book not so much. This book was 700 + pages & should have ended at page 400. Once the book focuses on the main characters family history, i totally zoned out. I skipped pages & pages. It made no sense to me at all.
Pearl61 More than 1 year ago
Like others, I raced to the bookstore to buy this book. Very disappointed! Hurricane Katrina, Iraq veteran, Columbine, Mark Twain, civil war, even the Coconut Grove fire all in one book! Too much! The basic idea was ok and would have been great if the it could have stuck to one or even possibly two of these ideas. About 250 fewer pages would have made this a better read. I had to force myself to finish it. He is too good to publish something this bad. Connie Mae Fowler did the dead baby discovery much better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The character development in this book was ingrossing--As a women who has read many novels about women and their issues, it was refreshing to read s good and emotionally provacative book about a man's life journey and struggles. The setting of the Columbine High School tragedy was so well researched that you could forgot it was a novel as the author sliped his characters seamlessly into the actual events. I was totally engrossed in the development of the main protagonist and the ending was stunning. The writting was supurb and I have already begun to read another novel by Lamb--
JulieG More than 1 year ago
I had already read, "I Know this Much is True" and "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb before reading "The Hour I First Believed". I absolutely LOVE the first two. In fact, I have read them each three times over the course of about three years (and I am not one to re-read books no matter how much I enjoy them). I also don't keep books after I've read them, but I will NEVER part with these! They are like old friends I can turn to sitting right on my book shelf. I love the characters. I love the way Mr. Lamb grabs you from the very first sentence and holds on tight right to the end. Even after reading 900+ pages, I find myself wishing there were more! That being said, I then read "The Hour I First Believed". I was not impressed. I fell in love with a few of the characters, but there were too many characters and there was too much story to really get into the book. The beginning was great, as was the end, but the entire middle was quite boring. I was disappointed in this book after reading other two. I want to stress to everyone out there that has read this book, and because of it, will not read another Wally Lamb book, that you are missing out on his other incredible books. Please don't let your opinion of this book keep you from reading the others. They are truly fantastic. I constantly search for other writers similar to Wally Lamb until I can read another one of his masterpieces!
jambalaya More than 1 year ago
The book's main premise, the Columbine tragedy and it's aftermath, was excellent. However, the main character's family history went on ad nauseum. I literally skipped hundreds of pages that included diaries and letters from the Civil War era. I don't feel that I missed anything of any importance by skipping this drivel. This is a book that could definitely benefit from an abridged version.
CalliopeMF More than 1 year ago
In his introduction, Wally Lamb says this was a very difficult novel to write. Yes, and difficult to read--since it is about the fallout for one family from the Columbine rampage. But it is a book you cannot put down, just like his "I Know This Much Is True." It is the story of one man's journey from insidious emotional pain and cynicism to a belief in the possibility of hope. Like Lamb's previous novels, this one takes its title from a song lyric. Some readers may be put off by the religious implications of the title; in fact, religious redemption is impossible for this narrator, considering the terrible events that have shaped his life. So it's not about religious conversion, but about something we good cynics can all find: faith in the reality of hope and the ability to enjoy the good parts of life. Why should we read it, if it's so painful? Because we are all like Caelum Quirk, and to survive our constant bombardment from the gleeful disseminators of bad news, we need to find out how one man arrives at peace in spite of the evil in the world. I wouldn't have missed reading "The Hour I First Believed" for anything.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the past Wally Lamb has written overall better novels. The Hour I First Believed was slow to start, the plot was predictable and the characters were cliche. While the concept of the novel was intriguing I would have cut out about 200 pages of dull repetitive writing.
JessWhite More than 1 year ago
Wally Lamb has a fluid writing style that's easy to follow. The characters are likeable but hard to grow attached to. The intertwining plot lines are far from realistic, but unpredictable and captivating nonetheless. It's packed full of references to real events/movies/songs etc. to help place a timeline. That may work to pull some readers in, but I thought it was a little cheesy and overdone. The story is drawn out too long, and ironically, the ending seemed to too quickly wrap up lose ends. Overall, it was okay, but not a book you'd ever want to read twice.
Paige01 More than 1 year ago
I was anxious to read Wally Lamb's new book and was thoroughly engrossed right from the beginning. Lamb's description of the Columbine tragedy was so poignantly depicted, that I felt a deep and emotional connection to the event and its victims. There are many twists and turns and surprises that are totally unpredictable and serve to make the book hard to put down. Its length is a bit daunting but Lamb expertly pulls you in and, before you know it, you're halfway through the book and looking forward to the second half. Readers beware...this is not a "feel good" book as it explores painful and difficult issues but well, well worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not like thus book. Too many characters and storylines and in the end it was very anticlimactic. Sorry Wally, I'm a fan of you but not this book :(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I gave up on page 553. I could no longer stomach this authors political beliefs. What a waste of a good book. I overlooked his political agenda in his other books, but this one went too far!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like this book since I like his other bestsellers. Wow, are you in for a long, depressing journey. Way too much detail. I ended up skipping entire sections just to get to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read and throughly enjoyed 'She's Come Undone' and 'I Know This Much is True', so when 'The Hour I First Believed' came out, I was excited, thinking that Wally Lamb had wrote another masterpeice. Boy, was I wrong! Both Caelum and Maureen are completely unlikeable, and therefore impossible to feel sorry for. Caelum is VERY cynical and condesending to others, bitter about his childhood. Maureen is an adulturer in the beginning of the book, whiny and impossible to be around throughout the rest. Even though Delores and Dominick were also cynical, they remain likeable throughout the book. No one in 'The Hour I First Believed' is. Also, I believe Wally Lamb uses this book as a backdrop for his political beliefs, which I did not appreciate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jodi Picoult addressed this topic in 19 minutes...Wally Lamb chooses a different perspective and takes the reader on a very vivid journey
em1326 More than 1 year ago
Liked this book, but at times the descriptions seemed long winded and at times pointless. I particularly enjoyed the added plot that involved the "research", it added another dimension to the story.
veddergirl187 More than 1 year ago
Ok, I waited a while to read this book, not sure if I was ready for it because I read so many good reviews and wanted to give it all of my attention. I finally picked it up when my classes finished and for the first half of the book, I was not disappointed. I found myself staying up late even when I had to work the next morning just to read more. About halfway into the book, it goes off on this tangent to the 1800s, early 1900s and I had to force myself to finish the book. What happened to Mo seemed like a quick fix to end the story and I am now left with a slight disdain for Wally (sorry, dude). What started as such a promising book ended up being a flop.