We Are Not Ourselves
By Matthew Thomas
Simon & Schuster, 2014. 620 pgs. Fiction
We Are Not Ourselves is a take on the classic American novel, tracing the story of a family from through the latter half of the 20th century. Eileen and Ed Leary were both raised in Irish immigrant households in Queens, and in their marriage and personally, aspire to transcend their rough upbringing and provide a different life for their son. Ed is a talented science teacher who cares deeply for providing equal opportunities for disadvantaged students--passing up offers from NYU and the position of Dean in order to keep teaching; while Eileen a nurse who quickly climbs the ranks of administrative duties and dreams of moving their family to the exclusive suburbs north of Manhattan. Ed's lack of upward motivation in his career is a source of great frustration for Eileen, but slowly his entire personality starts to shift as unbeknownst to either of them, Ed develops a very early onset of acute Alzheimer's disease. When he is finally diagnosed, their entire life, and dreams, shift drastically, leaving them all to contemplate and realize what ultimately matters most.
Books about Alzheimer's and similar disease in families always get to me, as they strike close to home. Thomas is deft in the articulation of the mental, physical, emotional and social changes this condition brings about in the live's of those who have it, and those who love and care for them. The characters are engaging, frustrating, and endearing and your heart breaks for each as they struggle through the most human of circumstances we all can relate to. This is a beautifully written, emotionally deep book that is very character driven, and follows a somewhat slow, but steady plot. ZB