We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas, author

Although the illness of Ed Leary is at the heart of this story because he morphs into someone who is no longer himself, the tale is really Eileen Tumulty’s. It explores her early childhood and takes the reader right up to her old age. She was brought up in a middle class neighborhood. Her dad was the neighborhood go-to guy. He held court and offered advice in the local bar after his workday ended and before he went home for dinner, which was always at the same assigned hour, served by her mother. He was content with his narrow life although his wife was not, and she eventually became an alcoholic. It was Eileen who took control and sent her mom to AA. This was to be Eileen’s persona as she grew up. She took charge and made things happen, often at the expense of others; although she was considerate, she seemed most interested in her own happiness first. She had the ability to move on with her life and not look back. She only dealt with those things that she could cope with comfortably, and she looked away from everything else as if it never happened. She worked when she had to, in order to get a good education, and eventually became a nurse. While pursuing a Master’s Degree, she met Ed Leary, ironically, a research scientist with expertise in the workings of the brain. He, like her father, was content with a mediocre kind of life, tending to the needs of others before himself. He refused promotions in favor of teaching those less fortunate and remained working at the Community College until circumstances forced him to leave.
Ed and Eileen married and had one child, Connell. Connell, like his mom, seemed to serve his own needs first, but also like his dad, enjoyed assisting others. They seemed like a good, upwardly mobile family, but they were really not on the move. Time passed, they moved from one home to another because of Eileen’s persistence, but basically, Ed remained where he was, never accepting advancement, and so he never grew. When misfortune struck, Eileen did take control once again, although, she really had no choice. She tried her best to cope with the situation she faced, but sometimes put her own needs before the needs of those most in need of her support. She was not always where she should be, by choice, but still she was in charge and made demands and compromises when necessary, especially after Ed’s unfortunate diagnosis.
The author dissects the family’s decline as the devastating disease that had no cure and no remission became an enormous burden to bear. The story carefully examines the varying reactions of those close to the family and the family members as Ed’s disease developed further and further until it was hard to recognize him as the man he once was. He deteriorated physically, mentally and emotionally. Through the narrative the author explores the issues that must be faced by the family members in order to cope with the new financial and emotional needs of both the victim and those that serve them.
Eileen does the best she can, but in the end wonders if her best was really the best she could have done. Guilt haunts Eileen and her son Connell. He was just a teenager, about to graduate High School when his father became ill, and it is only a few years later that the toll it takes on him is obvious.
The carefully drawn picture of Ed’s steady downward progression and Eileen’s desperate reactions, sometimes inappropriate and unexpected, gave the most meaning to the story. However, there seemed to be several long-winded and excessive descriptions that went on and on. The extra dialogue went off tangentially, lending nothing further to the story. Because of the excessive wordiness, after awhile, the story felt like one long eulogy whose purpose was to over involve and overwhelm the reader emotionally in much the same way as the narrator of the audio book seemed overwhelmed portraying the character totally on the basis of feelings and leaving out any intellectual interpretation. Perhaps, I would have liked Eileen more if the narrator’s tone hadn’t been so cloying. The reader sometimes over emoted in inappropriate moments, which almost mocked what she was describing rather than lending it the appropriate gravitas that it required. I also read the print copy for clarification of some points, and I think the print copy was superior.
The best part of the book is its exploration of Alzheimer’s Disease and how it effects others, besides the victim. It points out that the ability to communicate may not be the problem, rather it is the lack of communication that is at the heart of most of life’s crises. The guilt and shame that often follow in the wake of illness and death is most often misplaced. The book attempts to do too much. There is too much philosophy, too much emotion, too much description. Nothing is really left to think about because the author attempts to provide all of the answers.
In the end, the lack of communication between those that could and those that couldn’t, created chaos and misunderstandings, failures of purpose and moments of misconduct. Sometimes it necessitated starting life over again.

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About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

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