Literary Criticism and Significance
The Hour I First Believed weaves current events, history, psychology, science and faith into a seamless tapestry of a novel. The book is clearly an in-depth character study and a decade-long profile of the Quirks; however, it also serves as a barometer of American culture and current events.
The novel is divided into two sections: Butterfly and Mantis. Lamb describes the Butterfly chapters as a study of randomness and its effect on the world. In contrast, he says that the Mantis chapters indicate that there is a "divine ordering presence." These themes are in keeping with the novel's examination of faith, fate and free will.
Lamb's personal struggle to make sense of what happened on April 20, 1999, is evident throughout the novel. Most striking is the fabricated conversation Caelum has with the killers when he picks up a pizza from Black Jack Pizza, where the two worked before the massacre. Caelum takes note of how normal the boys seemed and how easy their conversation was. They spoke of the prom and graduation, both of which were imminent for the Columbine High students. Days later, Klebold and Harris executed an attack on their peers and teachers, the likes of which had never before been seen in the United States. Lamb imagines the duo as "talented secret-keepers" and "patient planners." Lamb's research is evident in the chapters which reveal transcripts of the Harris' and Klebold's homemade videos, excerpts from their journals, and notes written in yearbooks as he looks for clues as well as answers to what made them so angry and full of hate.
There are clearly elements of Lamb inherent in the character of Caelum. For one, they both love music. Lamb's three novels are all titled after songs, some popular, some more obscure. Nevertheless, music is a significant and driving force for both Caelum and Lamb. In fact, Lamb has compiled a playlist of tunes which he claims helped him write The Hour I First Believed. The list, like the novel, is divided into two parts: Butterfly and Mantis.
Author Wally Lamb penned The Hour I First Believed a decade after his last novel, This Much I Know Is True. Both books, along with Lamb's first novel, She's Come Undone, spent considerable time on best-seller lists. His first two books were chosen as Oprah's Book Club selections as well. Lamb's next book, titled Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story,is slated for release in November 2009.