Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Published March 2009 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of my public library's book club service

Publisher's Summary:
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. . . .

My Thoughts:
Okay, first of all, what kind of summary is that for a 900-page novel? That's a teaser, not a summary. Oh well, guess it's up to me.
"Because Ray was a bully, I showed him as often as possible that Thomas was the weaker brother. Fed him Thomas to save myself."
Dominick and Thomas are identical twins, raised by their painfully shy (thanks in no small part to a harelip) mother and abusive stepfather, in the shadow of their dead grandfather whom their mother seems to have idolized and in whose home they now live. The boys long to know who their father was but the more pressing matter, even through their college years, was surviving Ray. That is until the most pressing matter becomes Thomas' schizophrenia. For all of their lives, the boys desperately fought to become their own person even as they needed each other to be whole.

On their mother's deathbed, Dominick promises her that he will take care of Thomas after she is gone. But taking care of Thomas is a heavy burden, particularly after the delusional, paranoid Thomas cuts off his own hand as a statement against the Gulf War. And Dominick is already carrying a heavy burden that includes anger he can't control and tremendous guilt. In trying to save Thomas, though, Dominick is finally able to save himself.

As a first person narrator, Dominick is a hard person to care about. Certainly, he has much to be angry about - his abusive childhood, the loss of his baby daughter, and the weight around his neck that is Thomas. But Dominick brings much of what befalls him on himself. He stays in a relationship he knows is bad, for no apparent reason, and he spends much of his time feeling so sorry for himself that he is then unable to keep up with his commitments because of it. Still, ultimately, I had to cheer for him and enjoyed his journey to understanding that his museum of insults and injuries is the pain he has to release in order to heal.
"I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family's, and my country's past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I've figured out. I know this much is true."
I read I Know This Much Is True with my book club and I wasn't alone in thinking that Lamb has just tried to do too much here. While he doesn't exactly hit his readers over the head with all of his themes, there are just so many of them. No one is spared; there's not a character in this book that doesn't carry tremendous baggage from Dominick's ex-wife, Dessa, to his former schoolmate and coworker Ralph Drinkwater. Racial tension, war, suicide, SIDS and the loss of a child, physical and mental abuse, mental illness, AIDS, sex, religion, incest, child pornography, abusive authority figures, and forgiveness. Have I missed any hot buttons here? I'm not sure that Lamb did. While I found much of it interesting, it was hard to develop a deep feeling for any of it as one theme piled up on another.

My biggest problem with this book, though, was the memoir of the twins' grandfather that was squeezed into an already over full novel. Although Lamb tied its elements into Dominick's story, it still was an enormous distraction and there was just entirely too much of it. Just there is too much of the book. I think I might have really loved this book had it been 200 or so pages shorter, without so much baggage. Although I'm still struggling with how I felt about the ending.

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