The Hour I First Believed

Wally Lamb has a thing for lyrics. His own prose isn’t very musical—it clunks along like a muffler about ready to fall from an old Ford—but over and over again his characters find something they need in popular songs. His first novel, She’s Come Undone, took its title from the Guess Who and went on to play a veritable jukebox. His second, I Know This Much Is True, evoked a tune by Spandau Ballet. In his latest novel, the narrator spends hours replaying favorite songs in his head. Other characters can’t get away from them either: one complains that she was “named after some stupid song on the radio.” These characters come with a soundtrack, and they can’t turn it off.

Depending on your taste, this demonstrates either Lamb’s relevance or his limitations as an artist. His characters don’t find new ways to express themselves—they just sound like us, word for clumsy word.


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