“We Are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas is a saga of three generations of Irish immigrants as they strive to make a better life for their children.
Eileen Leary’s parents are the immigrants, and she grows up in Queens, N.Y., loving her father who holds forth in the local pub after work, giving advice and support to those who admire him. However, he and Eileen’s mother both drink too much, and as Eileen grows older she sees her parents drift further and further apart. She wants more for her life. She is determined to study hard, get a good job and marry someone who is steady and wants all the things she dreams about.
When she meets Ed she sees her future unfolding in front of her. He is smart and a scientist. Eventually she will own a home and have children that go on to college. Of course, life always has surprises and detours and as Eileen has to deal with life’s problems she becomes even more fiercely determined to hold her family together and get what she wants.
This novel explores the middle class values of our century. When Eileen is small her neighborhood is filled with immigrants from Ireland and Italy. But as she grows older, people from India, Pakistan and other countries start filling the schools. The restaurants change. Different languages start to appear.
Eileen is open-minded and does not want to seem prejudiced, but these people are different. Their food smells and when served looks like huge mounds of brown glop. Yet these people want the same things she wants and she likes them even as she dreams of escaping to the suburbs.
We all want our children to be happy and successful. And yet what do children do? The author writes, “They went out too often, they stayed out too late, they said things that cut to the quick, they forgot responsibilities, they broke your heart. Years later they thought about it all.” And parents always forgive them and love them and continue wanting each of their children to have that American Dream.