When I picked up Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves, I already knew what I was getting into. Kendra had already read the majority of it, and warned me about the triggers it contained. Keeping that in mind, this review will entail a rather large spoiler that may help you decide whether or not you want to read this book.
I typically don’t pick up books like Ourselves, because I am not usually attracted to literary fiction. I prefer genres like historical fiction, mystery, fantasy, or dystopic fiction. But based on Misha Collins’s recommendation, I had a feeling that I needed to read it.
To be perfectly honest, approximately the first half of the book isn’t terribly plot driven. It is, however, beautiful. The strength and honesty within the sentences themselves is what kept me turning pages. What plot there is follows the adolescence and young adulthood of Eileen Tumulty, a girl born to Irish immigrants in New York City. Her life is not easy—her parents’ marriage is deteriorating, although they do not separate. Her mother falls prey to alcoholism. Due to that, and various other circumstances, Eileen has to grow up very quickly and take on responsibilities not meant for young girls. This drives her to do well in school so that she can support herself and move up in the world. Later, the reader realizes that her urge to live a better lifestyle, and her lack of contentment with her current situations, is a theme carried by Eileen into her marriage with Edmund Leary.
Their married life is normal. They have a baby named Connell. Both Eileen and Ed are working hard, and saving money. They are a typical American family. All seems well, until the beautiful sentences begin to give way to realistic hints. As a typical American family, they are prey to the same things that affect typical people, and this is where the true beauty of the book shines through. After several difficult years, Ed is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
But how can that be beautiful? I asked myself the same thing, even as I kept turning pages, unable to stop reading. Why am I doing this to myself? I thought as I wept discreetly during uni orientation after living a particularly emotional moment with Eileen, Ed, and Connell. And that is where the secret of Ourselves lies—the reader lives each moment with this family, enjoys the victories and endures the sadness. I became a part of the Leary family, and their losses were my own.
If you want to feel something real, something deep, then this is a book you should read. And in reading, you will experience something beyond yourself—a connection to humanity, in all its wonderful frailty.
Life is only precious because it ends… —Rick Riordan