The new novel We Are Not Ourselves took Montclair resident Matthew Thomas 10 years to complete and considering the praise it has been receiving, the decade of work was worth it. Thomas will share his literary debut at his hometown bookstore, Watchung Booksellers, tomorrow, Thursday, August 21.
Baristanet spoke to Thomas about his life and his inspiration for We Are Not Ourselves:
Baristanet: Where did you grow up and when did you move to Montclair.
Matthew Thomas: I grew up in Queens in the 80’s. After moving around the country for college and graduate school, I eventually settled in Manhattan. Last April, I moved to Montclair with my wife and twin children.
B: What do you do for a living when you’re not writing?
MT: For the better part of a decade, I was a teacher at Xavier High School in Manhattan. Now I write full-time.
B: We Are Not Ourselves tells the story of an Irish-American family after WWII, specifically character Eileen Tumulty’s life. Why did you chose that time and culture for your novel?
MT: I set the beginning of the novel in the postwar period because I wanted to tell the story of the whole sweep of a woman’s life, up to the present. I chose the Irish-American culture as my entry into this story because it was the culture I was most familiar with, having grown up in it, and because looking through the lens of Irish immigrants and their progeny allowed me to explore larger questions I had about the American experience generally.
B: You also deal with Alzheimer’s Disease in the story.
MT: I had been writing about the character of Eileen for a while before I decided to give her husband Alzheimer’s. My father died of early-onset Alzheimer’s about a decade ago, and I had an emotional connection to the story of how that disease affects a family. At some point it struck me that, for reasons that were already woven into her biography as I understood it, this character’s watching her husband get this disease would affect her in particular and significant ways that compelled me from a dramatic perspective. I was interested in exploring these effects on her and in telling the story of how she would play the hand she was dealt.
We Are Not Ourselves is being well received, being called “deeply moving,” “a gripping family saga, maybe the best I’ve read since The Corrections,” and “storytelling at its best.” Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children says:
So long as there are novels like We Are Not Ourselves, so long as there are writers like Matthew Thomas, the form of the novel is more than alive, it is thriving, palpitant.
The staff at Watchung Booksellers agree saying, “Once in a while we get to be there to witness a great and important book at the beginning of its journey. This is one of those times.”
Matthew Thomas: “We Are Not Ourselves” Reading and Signing
Thursday, August 21 at 7 pm
Watchung Booksellers, 54 Fairfield Street, Montclair, NJ, 07042