Day 759: We Are Not Ourselves

Cover for We Are Not OurselvesBest Book of the Week!
Eileen Tumulty has had a tough youth and adolescence with her Irish immigrant family struggling with alcoholism. For most of her school years she’s had to keep the house and take care of her drunken mother. So, when she meets Ed Leary, a young scientist who holds the promise of getting out of her neighborhood in Queens, she marries him.

In some ways, they are a mismatch even though they love each other. Eileen is a practical woman, ambitious for a well-to-do life. Ed cares about integrity, his teaching, and his research. When Eileen buys him an expensive gold watch for a wedding present, one she cannot return, he refuses to wear it even after she replaces the gold wristband with a leather one. He teaches and has a lab at Bronx College. Several times he is offered jobs at more prestigious schools that he turns down. He also turns down an offer to be head of his department.

After a while, Eileen becomes exasperated at their lack of upward mobility. They have bought the three-family house in which they rented an apartment, but they still live in the same Queens neighborhood they moved to when they were married. However, after their son Connell is born, Eileen settles her attention on him for awhile and also continues her nursing career.

Eventually, a shadow falls over the lives of the Learys. I don’t want to tell what it is, because it happens well into the novel. Until it happens, I sometimes wondered where the novel was going but eventually realized it is an honest, unflinching look at the pressures on a small family of a tremendous burden.

The novel is told mostly from the point of view of Eileen, a strong, independent woman with a will to succeed. Because of her upbringing, she has problems with showing affection and being open. Ed is warmer and more affectionate to Connell. Connell is slow to mature but eventually learns to accept responsibility for his actions.

I felt for a long time some distance from these characters, but the sheer weight of everything we learn about them eventually breaks through this barrier. The result is a touching and affecting story about love’s power over adversity.

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9 thoughts on “Day 759: We Are Not Ourselves

  1. Carole Besharah August 21, 2015 / 6:36 pm

    I sobbed, near the end, because of “the sheer weight of everything”. Thanks for sharing.

    • whatmeread August 24, 2015 / 7:25 am

      I think a tear came to my eye.

  2. Naomi August 24, 2015 / 12:46 pm

    The cover of this book makes me think it is about something completely different than you described. It sounds like something I would like!

    • whatmeread August 24, 2015 / 12:50 pm

      I think it’s just showing the elevated train from underneath to evoke the Bronx.

      • Naomi August 24, 2015 / 1:05 pm

        I was wondering what that was. 🙂

      • whatmeread August 24, 2015 / 1:09 pm

        Actually, I didn’t try to figure out what it was until you mentioned it!

  3. Susan Kavanagh September 6, 2015 / 5:45 pm

    Hate to sound like a pedantic bore, but you keep referring to them living in the Bronx. They never lived in the Bronx. When she is young, Ellen lives in Woodside, neighborhood in Queens. She is delighted to move to Jackson Heights, another neighborhood in Queens. By the time she has moved there, the population of Jackson Heights changes as more immigrants from South American and India move there. This is an important part of the book. The elevated subway runs through Woodside and Jackson Heights. The family’s final move is to a suburb in Westchester.

    • whatmeread September 8, 2015 / 7:30 am

      Sorry, when I was writing up my notes, I couldn’t remember, so I looked back, and all I could find references to was the Bronx.

    • whatmeread September 8, 2015 / 7:31 am

      Now that I look back, my “keep referring to” was one reference.

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