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The Hour I First Believed

Wally Lamb’s latest novel imagines a couple engulfed in the emotional aftershocks of the Columbine school shootings.

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You know how Michelangelo liked to stare at a slab of marble and wait for the work of art to emerge? A similar experience awaits readers of Wally Lamb’s new novel, The Hour I First Believed. The metaphor seems apt, because the 750-page behemoth weighs about as much as a hunk of granite.

Unfortunately, in this case, it’s up to the reader to do the excavating.

School shootings have inspired novels as diverse as Jodi Picoult’s ripped-from-the-headlines bestseller “Nineteen Minutes” and Richard Russo’s National Book Award winner “Empire Falls.” Lamb, whose first two novels, “She’s Come Undone” and “I Know This Much Is True” were both given the Oprah seal of approval, has previously shown an affinity for both teenage voices and the emotional aftereffects of tragedy.

So it’s not surprising that he would gravitate to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Lamb hasn’t lost his ability for dark humor or for making readers care intensely about his characters, no matter how flawed. He avoids sentimentality, cheap psychological diagnosis, and healing through the power of platitudes.

Where he seems to have tripped up is the unwieldy structure of his story, which is buried under so many dissertations, subplots, tangents (and even Mark Twain sightings) that it requires the patience of, well, a Job.
Which is kind of funny, since that’s what Lamb might as well have named his main character.

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