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We Are Not Ourselves

September 2014

People start their lives with dreams. When we are young, we create a road map and typically see it without speed bumps. But then real life happens, and often it’s not what we planned. Challenges arise; it gets messy. It’s all not the holiday card newsletter or the perfect Facebook photos. Dreams fade or get reshaped.

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by debut novelist Matthew Thomas looks at life like that. It starts with a dream and then heads off the rails. At the beginning, Eileen Tumulty has a plan. She is going to leave the Queens neighborhood where she lives with her hard-drinking Irish immigrant parents and not look back. She meets Ed Leary, who is her ticket to a better life. He has a great job as a scientist and is kind to her. She feels the tumult of her childhood being left behind and sees a bright future ahead: Success. A great house. A bigger world.

But Ed is not as ambitious as Eileen would like him to be --- and she is wondering why. She pushes, she prods. She then realizes that something is terribly wrong, and her mission becomes to help Ed as best she can. Her big dreams are pushed away. She instead learns to find delight in little things. I am not going to share here what the “something” is. It has been documented in many reviews, though not here on To me, “it” is a metaphor for what can happen to any family to have it unravel.

Our look at “it” provides real insight into what families must learn to cope with while dealing with this challenge, for caught up in the world with them is Eileen and Ed’s son, Connell. Eileen wants him to have the better life she knows will not be afforded to her, but at the same time, she cannot shelter him from all that is wrong. He was tapped to have the better life, but again reality has crept it.  

Set between 1941 and the present time, the story also speaks of life in the middle class. It’s relatable on many levels. I found myself reading it as a social commentary on the times as much as for the storyline. There are well-drawn period details, and Matthew’s prose shapes them well.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Matthew about WE ARE NOT OURSELVES for the Author Buzz panel at BookExpo America, as this is a BEA Buzz title. He worked on this book for 10 years. At some point he realized he needed a bigger back story to tell the story he wanted. There are times that the pace may feel slow as you are reading, and, yes, this is a 600+ page book. But it mirrors life, which is made up of a number of small moments instead of a crescendoing number of big ones. I looked back on the note I sent to the editor when I finished it. Among my comments: “It hit me on every emotional level.”

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES will be excellent for book group discussions as there is a lot to talk about! You can find a discussion guide for it here.

We Are Not Ourselves
by Matthew Thomas

  • Publication Date: June 2, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1476756678
  • ISBN-13: 9781476756677