With his stunning debut novel, She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb won the adulation of critics and readers with his mesmerizing tale of one woman's painful yet triumphant journey of self-discovery. Now, this brilliantly talented writer returns with I Know This Much Is True, a heartbreaking and poignant multigenerational saga of the reproductive bonds of destruction and the powerful force of forgiveness. A masterpiece that breathtakingly tells a story of alienation and connection, power and abuse, devastation and renewal—this novel is a contemporary retelling of an ancient Hindu myth. A proud king must confront his demons to achieve salvation. Change yourself, the myth instructs, and you will inhabit a renovated world.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
This much is true for sure: Lamb's second novel (after the bestselling, Oprah-selected She's Come Undone) is a hefty read. Some may be daunted by its length, its seemingly obsessive inclusion of background details and its many digressions. The topics it unflinchingly explores mental illness, dysfunctional families, domestic abuse are rendered with unsparing candor. But thanks to well-sustained dramatic tension, funky gallows humor and some shocking surprises, this sinuous story of one family's dark secrets and recurring patterns of behavior largely succeeds in its ambitious reach. The narrative explores the theme of sibling responsibility, depicting the moral and emotional conundrum of an identical twin whose love for his afflicted brother is mixed with resentment, bitterness and guilt. Narrator Dominick Birdsey, once a high-school history teacher and now, at 40, a housepainter in upstate Connecticut, relates the process that led to his twin Thomas's schizophrenic paranoia and the resulting chaos in both their lives. The book opens with a horrific scene in which Thomas slices off his right hand, declaring it a sacrifice demanded by God. Flashbacks illuminate the boys' difficult childhoods: illegitimate, they never knew their father; diffident, gentle Thomas was verbally and physically abused by their bullying stepfather, who also terrorized their ineffectual mother. Scenes from the pivotal summer of 1969, when Dominick betrayed Thomas and others in crucial ways, are juxtaposed with his current life: his frustrating relationship with his scatterbrained live-in, Joy; his enduring love for his ex-wife, Dessa; his memories of their baby's death and of his mother's sad and terrified existence. All of this unfolds against his urgent need to release Thomas from a mental institution and the psychiatric sessions that finally force Dominick to acknowledge his own self-destructive impulses. Lamb takes major risks in spreading his narrative over more than 900 pages. Long stretches are filled with the raunchy, foul-mouthed humor of teenaged Dominick and his friends. Yet the details of working-class life, particularly the prevalence of self-righteous male machismo and domestic brutality, ring absolutely true. Though the inclusion of a diary written by the twins' Sicilian immigrant grandfather may seem an unnecessary digression at first, its revelations add depth and texture to the narrative. Lastly, what seems a minor subplot turns out to hold the key to many secrets. In tracing Dominick's helplessness against the abuse of power on many levels, Lamb creates a nuanced picture of a flawed but decent man. And the questions that suspensefully permeate the novel the identity of the twins' father; the mystery of the inscription on their grandfather's tomb; the likelihood of Dominick's reconciliation with his ex-wife contribute to a fully developed and triumphantly resolved exploration of one man's suffering and redemption. BOMC main selection; author tour; simultaneous audio. (June) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
Showing 1-5 of the 5 most recent reviews
1 . Very good
Posted April 25, 2013 by Connie , Tampa FlThis book was very good, I couldn't put it down.
2 . Really Looong
Posted April 26, 2010 by Bianca , ClevelandThe book was very entertaining. It seemed to drag on at times but was altogether a good book.
3 . Wally Lamb is one of the best authors around!
Posted February 19, 2010 by Kim , VancouverThis is a great read!
You need to read this book slowly and get into all the characters minds. He is a master at digging deep into the human soul.
The plot is deep, and it keeps you reading. I love Wally Lamb's ability to create characters that are so complex - just as we are in real life.
HIs books are always a treat. Well written and a pleasure to read.
4 . not a usual oprah book
Posted January 26, 2010 by tovia , jax, fla page turner..definately worth a read..helps to understand a little better the conflicts within a family dealing with mental illness...good editing on this one, reads well on the ereader
5 . IGNORE THE OPRAH STICKER!
Posted July 27, 2009 by Blazon Paradox , Cleveland, OhThis is well worth a read or 47!
November 25, 2003
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Excerpt from I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. Mrs. Theresa Fenneck, the children's librarian, was officially in charge that day because the head librarian was at an all-day meeting in Hartford. She approached my brother and told him he'd have to keep his voice down or else leave the library. She could hear him all the way up at the front desk. There were other patrons to consider. If he wanted to pray, she told him, he should go to a church, not the library.
Thomas and I had spent several hours together the day before. Our Sunday afternoon ritual dictated that I sign him out of the state hospital's Settle Building, treat him to lunch, visit our stepfather or take him for a drive, and then return him to the hospital before suppertime. At a back booth at Friendly's, I'd sat across from my brother, breathing in his secondary smoke and leafing for the umpteenth time through his scrapbook of clippings on the Persian Gulf crisis. He'd been collecting them since August as evidence that Armageddon was at hand--that the final battle between good and evil was about to be triggered. "America's been living on borrowed time all these years, Dominick," he told me. "Playing the world's whore, wallowing in our greed. Now we're going to pay the price."
He was oblivious of my drumming fingers on the tabletop. "Not to change the subject," I said, "but how's the coffee business?" Ever since eight milligrams of Haldol per day had quieted Thomas's voices, he had managed a small morning concession in the patients' lounge--coffee and cigarettes and newspapers dispensed from a metal cart more rickety than his emotional state. Like so many of the patients there, he indulged in caffeine and nicotine, but it was the newspapers that had become Thomas's most potent addiction.
"How can we kill people for the sake of cheap oil? How can we justify that?" His hands flapped as he talked; his palms were grimy from newsprint ink. Those dirty hands should have warned me--should have tipped me off. "How are we going to prevent God's vengeance if we have that little respect for human life?"
Our waitress approached--a high school kid wearing two buttons: "Hi, I'm Kristin" and "Patience, please. I'm a trainee." She asked us if we wanted to start out with some cheese sticks or a bowl of soup.
"You can't worship both God and money, Kristin," Thomas told her. "America's going to vomit up its own blood."
About a month later-after President Bush had declared that "a line has been drawn in the sand" and conflict might be inevitable-Mrs. Fenneck showed up at my front door. She had sought me out-had researched where I lived via the city directory, then ridden out of the blue to Joy's and my condo and rung the bell. She pointed to her husband, parked at the curb and waiting for her in their blue Dodge Shadow. She identified herself as the librarian who'd called 911.