We Are Not Ourselves

Matthew Thomas, Author
Matthew Thomas. Simon & Schuster, $28 (640p) ISBN 978-1-4767-5666-0
Reviewed on: 04/21/2014
Release date: 08/19/2014
In his powerful and significant debut novel, Thomas masterfully evokes one woman’s life in the context of a brilliantly observed Irish working-class milieu. Eileen Tumulty was born in the early ’40s, the only child and dutiful caretaker of alcoholic parents. As a young woman, she hopes to leave her family’s dingy apartment in Woodside, Queens, and move up the social ladder. Eileen falls in love with and marries Ed Leary, a quiet neuroscientist whom she sees as the means to an upper-middle-class future. But Ed is dedicated to pure scientific research, and he turns down lucrative job offers from pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions. The couple’s apartment in Jackson Heights is a step up from Eileen’s parents’ apartment, but she wants a home in tony Westchester County. Later, Eileen pursues an arduous career as a nursing administrator to secure a future for their son, Connell. But once she gets her gracious but dilapidated fixer-upper in Bronxville, in southern Westchester, Ed is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and the family slowly endures “the encroaching of a fathomless darkness.” Thomas works on a large canvas to create a memorable depiction of Eileen’s vibrant spirit, the intimacy of her love for Ed, and the desperate stoicism she exhibits as reality narrows her dreams. Her life, observed over a span of six decades, comes close to a definitive portrait of American social dynamics in the 20th century. Thomas’s emotional truthfulness combines with the novel’s texture and scope to create an unforgettable narrative. (Sept.)
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