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Submitted Literature

The Hour I First Believed

By Wally Lamb


Lamb manages to combine analysis of the horrific events of the Columbine High shootings in America with the deeply personal stories of a fictional couple affected by that day. Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen suffer the ripple impact of post traumatic stress disorder post-event. Maureen is trapped in a cupboard during the rampage of the 2 shooters and suffers devastating PTSD, leading to a range of psychological problems. Simultaneously, Caelum confronts issues from his own past as the couple struggle to stay both afloat and together as they drift through lives sharply divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’.

This is essentially novel about trying to understand the incomprehensible, interpret the uninterpretable, make sense of the random and senseless.

The novel belongs to the genre of faction – fictionalised versions of real events. Lamb’s attention to real details gives this text a great deal of authenticity.

Key Themes:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Significant Quotes / Pages

20 – “Over and over, for years now, I have returned to that Friday night: when I can’t sleep, when I can, when the steel door slides open and I walk towards her, Maureen looking sad-eyed and straggle-haired, in her maroon t-shirt and pocketless jeans. Mo’s one of the victims you’ve never read about in the Columbine coverage, or seen interviewed on the Today show or Good Morning, America. One of the collaterally damaged.”

165 – “ ‘I suppose it doesn’t even apply, really: the “banality of evil” principle. Those boys were obviously sick – psychopathic or sociopathic, I’d venture to say, although it’s not really fair of me to diagnose them. Eichmann and the others were...well, good bureaucrats.’ ”  

211 – “But didn’t Zanis have a point? Weren’t Eric and Dylan victims, too?


Mental illness? Video games? Who knew. And lets face it, we did sometimes look away from the bullying. Let it go when the athletes cut the cafeteria line. Gave the wiseguys in the hallway a dirty look but kept going. You’ve got to choose your battles, I used to tell myself."


255 - “April 20, 1999. In the days, weeks, months, and years, now, since they opened fire, I have searched wherever I could for the whys, hows, and whether-or-nots of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s rampage. They had been my students first, but I became theirs, stalking them so that I might rescue my wife from the aftermath of what they’d done. On that day, Maureen had escaped execution by opening a cabinet door and entering a maze – a many-corridored prison whose four outer walls were fear, anger, guilt, and grief. And because I was powerless to retrieve her – because I, too, entered the labyrinth and became lost – my only option was to find its centre, confront the two-headed monster who waited for me there, and murder it. Murder the murderers, who had already murdered themselves. You see what a puzzler it was? What a network of dead ends? Like I said, I was lost.”

Reference: Wally, Lamb. 2008. The Hour I First Believed. London: Harper, 2009


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 21st September 2009