Title: We Are Not Ourselves
Author: Matthew Thomas
Genre: Literary fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Audiobook reader: Mare Winningham
Audiobook length: 20 hours 51 minutes
First line: Instead of going to the priest, the men who gathered at Doherty’s Bar after work went to Eileen Tumulty’s father.
Goodreads blurb: Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.
When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.
Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.
The fact that I finished listening to this monstrously long audiobook is a huge indication that my decision to no longer accept review copies is the best possible decision. If I had picked this up to listen to on my own, rather than receiving a review copy through Audiobook Jukebox, I would not have finished it. Because I requested the book, I felt obligated to slog through. And it was a slog.
I realize that I am in a teeny weeny minority when it comes to my opinion on this book. It seems that everyone else absolutely adores it. I don’t know why I requested it to begin with; I know that I have a hate-hate relationship with “literary fiction.” And yet, I see all the shiny reviews of the latest literary darling, and I think, “This time it will be different!” And sometimes it is, and I end up loving the book. But that happens maybe one out of ten times; the other nine I’m left wondering what I’m missing. Or else I find myself asking why authors with such breathtaking writing skills have no sense of plot movement or story development.
Matthew Thomas can write; that is not in any doubt. But he writes and writes and writes. This audiobook was about seven hours longer than it needed to be. There were times when the story would go off on yet another rabbit trail that I would actually find myself rolling my eyes. And when one of the rabbit trails finally catches my attention, it is dropped and never to be seen again. (What happened to Sergei?!)
I also don’t think Mare Winningham should read audiobooks. I like her as an actress, but she has a monotone, sleep-inducing drone of a voice – which is definitely not a good match for a book that already feels way too long.
So, bottom line: If you already like literary ficton, read this in print; if, like me, you don’t really get it, then give it a miss.