I just finished this book for the second time. I don’t often re-read books, especially ones this long. Mostly because of time. But my mom picked it for book club and it had been long enough since I read it that I felt I needed to read it again.
The book is about Caleum and Maureen Quirk. When the book opens, they are living in Littleton, Colorado. Caleum is a high school English teacher and his wife a nurse at Columbine High School. They are originally from Connecticut. They left and moved to Colorado because Caleum beat up the guy his wife was having an affair with. Caleum receives a telephone call saying that his aunt, who raised him and who he’s close to, has had a stroke. He gets on a plane and flies to Connecticut.
While he’s in Connecticut, the shooting at Columbine happens. He immediately rushes home to find that his wife was hiding in the cabinets of the library break room while those boys shot and killed people. She is completely traumatized by the events. So much so that Caleum and Maureen move back to Connecticut. Caleum’s aunt has passed and he has to take care of the farm that has been in his family for a century. There’s a prison founded by his great-grandmother across the road from the farm. It’s a women’s prison.
Maureen has terrible PTSD and does not seek treatment immediately for her problem. As a result, she develops an addiction to Xanax. She is sober for a long time and working at a nursing home. Her favorite patient dies and she is accosted by a drunk who gets into the home. It triggers a flashback. She injects Ativan and starts a downward spiral. She gets high one night and on the drive home, and hits and kills a young kid. She is arrested and sentenced to five years in prison – at the Quirk Correctional Facility. The prison presents all kinds of challenges for her.
Meanwhile, Caleum is teaching at a community college and helping his friend, Alphonse, run his family’s bakery. He takes in Hurricane Katrina survivors as boarders at the farm house. He works and lives and eventually has a one-night stand with the female border. Velvet, the troubled student from Colorado shows up. I don’t want to give much more of the plot away.
If you are unfamiliar with Wally Lamb, his books can be a bit….thick. He writes in lawyers and you have to pay attention to things or they pass you by. What I liked about this book is he just keeps at you. There is a barrage of things and just when you think another thing can’t happen – it does. What I didn’t like about the book was that it was really hard to like most of the main characters.
Maureen needs to be in rehab. While I realize that you cannot force someone to admit their addiction and get help, you can stop enabling them. And Caleum keeps enabling her. Caleum is another problem. I wanted to like him so badly, but there are so many parts of him that are unlikable. However. That is human nature. To really know a person is to know them faults and all. And with Caleum we get his inner being along with that – something we don’t normally get from other people. I suppose that means that you have to remember were this real life, you wouldn’t know as much about him as you do and that may make him infinitely more likeable as a person.
Overall, it’s a good book. I have read it twice now and I don’t usually re-read books. It’s long – over 600 pages so be ready to heft a big one around with you. But it is worth the read.