Finished March 27
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
This novel begins in 1951, with ten-year-old Eileen Tumulty living in a small apartment in Queens with her parents, and a lodger. Eileen's father was a laborer who had a certain role in the community of giving advice to other men, setting himself up in a local pub every afternoon. Eileen longs to escape this life and studies hard, going on to get her nursing degree, and eventually her masters in nursing. When she meets Ed Leary, a research scientist, she thinks he will go on to great things and give her the upscale life she longs for. But Ed has different values, and his way leads to a limited academic career.
The couple and their son Connell live in a three family house in Jackson Heights, with the owner and his family members occupying the other two units. Even as things improve financially, Eileen feels limited by her surroundings and dreams of a house in a more upscale neighbourhood. Connell is also studious, doing well in school and gaining a scholarship into a better school in the city. He has a couple of friends in the neighbourhood, but feels out of place, constantly searching for an identity of his own.
As Eileen realizes a move to a new home, Ed's difficult behaviour is uncovered to be a health issue, and everything changes for the family. As Ed's health diminishes, Eileen becomes more and more isolated, living her life in a rotation of work, duty, and sleep that leaves her unhappy and unfulfilled. Connell also struggles, unable to support his father in the way Eileen wants, and unable to see what his own future holds for him.
As this tale takes us through these characters lives, up to 2011, we see the struggles, the dreams, and the hearts of them. It is really about these people, looking into what drives them, what frustrates them and what they feel about their world.
I particularly liked Eileen's venture back to her old neighbourhood near the end of the novel, and her enlightenment as a result.