Simon & Schuster Releases Debut Author Matthew Thomas's WE ARE NOT OURSELVES
Matthew Thomas's novel about Alzheimer's was born of personal experience and extreme financial sacrifice. He had never published anything before We Are Not Ourselves, the book he devoted 10 years of his life to writing while working as a high-school English teacher. last year when his book was auctioned for $1 million and then in May it was featured as one of the Buzz Books for 2014 at Book Expo America.
At the Book Expo, Marysue Rucci, editor-in-chief of the book's publisher, Simon & Schuster, portrayed We Are Not Ourselves as a multi-generational story and breathlessly described Thomas's writing. At the end of the presentation, those who had heard her speak rushed to grab the advance readers copies. rushed to the front of the room to grab advance reader's copies, stacked on a table there.
Though the title foreshadows it, readers learn only gradually that one of the main characters has Alzheimer's. The book's description is as follows:
Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.
When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she's found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn't aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.
Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.
Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.
Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.
Thomas knows this subject well. When he was 19 his own father, who was also a college professor, was diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. Though early onset of the disease is rare, one in eight baby boomers will get Alzheimer's after they turn 65, and families, like the one in the book, are often ill prepared to deal emotionally or financially. Thomas says his father's diagnosis was a "protracted and delayed death sentence," just as it was for his characters.
Thomas spent a decade writing the book completely on speculation and he acknowledges his own financial risk in doing that and says he "decided to reach for the brass ring." He started writing the novel in 2003 without any commitment from a publisher while he was a student in the MFA program at University of California, Irvine. He switched to writing in 8 ½ by 11-inch spiral notebooks, after a few months of using the computer, and wrote most of the 620-page book in longhand. Before he finished the novel, he would often take a break from the spiral notebooks, type some onto his computer, editing it as he went along. After that, he'd print out sections, which he then put binders and edited by hand. He says that his process made it impossible to count how many drafts the book went through. He write at night, while working as an English teacher at a New York City private school. Thomas, his wife Joy, and his two children lived in extreme frugality until he finished his novel. On March 1, 2013, he sent it to an agent, who sold it a month later.
After grabbing that brass ring, does he feel any pressure? After such a successful experience, Thomas feels some pressure, but not like the "terror" that he experienced with his first book, he says. "Nothing will match the kind of pressure I had when I was wondering how things would turn out."
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Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan