“We Are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas

we-are-not-ourselvesAs a young woman and the daughter of Irish immigrants, Eileen Tumulty longs for the day when she will marry a successful husband and fulfill the American Dream of wealth, comfort, and belonging. Bright, ambitious, and attractive, she wants to flee her current situation, mired in poverty and alcohol abuse.  Palpable shame drives her ambitions.

While getting a graduate degree in nursing administration, Eileen’s roommate coaxes her to go on a blind double date New Year’s Eve, and so she is matched with Edmund Leary.  Ed is a brilliant brain scientist studying the effects of psychotropic drugs on neural functioning.  Eileen is taken with his smarts, drive, and seriousness and sees great prospects for a happy, prosperous future.  They marry without ever having a conversation about what each is looking for in life. But, when Ed turns down an offer from Merck – including state-of-the-art equipment in a lab of his own, lab assistants, and a hefty salary – Eileen realizes their goals may not be aligned.  Ed decides to keep his quiet research and teaching position at the local college.  Even later, when he is offered a promotion to deanship of the college, he declines.  Through many heated quarrels, Eileen makes her feelings known and sees the American Dream within their grasp.  Ed refuses to budge.

Eileen takes it upon herself to find a large house in the suburbs and convinces Ed to go along with it even though they will be stretched financially.  In addition to depleting their savings to buy the house, the amount of work and funds it will take to fix up the house is daunting.

Then, what cruel twist of fate (similar to Beethoven going deaf) affects Ed the brain scientist at the young age of 51?   How does this affect his mind, his profession, and, of course, Eileen’s hope?   Eileen is pushed to the limit as she struggles to hold it all together, like many of us do in our own lives when Fate intrudes unannounced, just when things seem to be going well.  Can Eileen succeed for both Ed’s and her own sakes?  There is much for us to learn from their experience.

This extensive, stunning grand story spans three generations and is written in serene, elegant prose.  It follows one woman as her idealistic dreams are dashed and when faced with a tragic destiny a determined resilience emerges that looks a lot like love.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 5.  Join the monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, October 5 at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague for refreshments, snacks, beverages, camaraderie, and discussion; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets the first Monday monthly all year long.

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