Note: this is a review of an advanced reading copy from Netgalley and Simon and Schuster. The final publication may differ from the material reviewed here.
I’m not sure I can adequately express my thoughts on We Are Not Ourselves, the debut novel by Matthew Thomas. In my notes, I wrote that none of the characters are likeable and that the book reminds me a lot of The Winter of our Discontent, Death of a Salesman, and Revolutionary Road in tone — in general, an all around bleak sort of story about the gulf between expectation and reality. Having finished the book, I would say that there’s more going on than just that. There’s also the gulf between guilt and empathy and an underlying sense of resignation. The characters are at times infuriating — Eileen Leary (née Tumulty), determined, come hell or high water, to seize the brass ring of the American Dream, Ed Leary, her husband, so set in his ways that they seem to be heading for an impasse, and their son Connell, floating through life without ambition or concern. Through the first part of the novel, I felt not only disconnected from the Learys but actively reviled by them, but the devastation visited upon them in the course of the story made their transgressions against one another if not understandable, then at least forgivable.
I don’t want to spoil the book (although what happens to alter the course of the Leary family is foreshadowed heavily) but suffice it to say that it causes a radical shift in how they perceive one another, as well as the life they have created together.
This is not a perfect novel; it can stand at times for greater flow between the perspectives told from Eileen’s point of view and those of her son, Connell. Still, Thomas’ prose is strong and faithful. He has created a novel of impressive depth and gravity, which is all too uncomfortably real.