My book club picked I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb for one of our reads, and since we didn’t plan on meeting in Nov/Dec, it was a perfect pick to start off 2009. It’s not like I didn’t warn my book club. We were at my house when the book was picked, and they were able to see the density of this thing. But they forged ahead and agreed they wanted to read it. I mentioned it was in my Top Three Favorite Books of All Time, so with a desire to read it and a recommendation to boot, it was assigned to our January 2009 meeting.
I Know This Much Is True is about two boys, twins: Thomas and Dominick Birdsey. Thomas is a paranoid schizophrenic, and the book explores the boys’ relationship and how Thomas’ illness has affected Dominick’s life. The book opens with Thomas severing his right hand with a knife in a public library as a sacrifice to God. The book takes off from there.
Wally Lamb takes us back to Thomas and Dominick’s childhood. You get a sense of their personalities at an early age and what they did to survive living in an abusive household. Dominick has a lot of anger about how his stepfather treats his brother, how he himself treats his brother, how his mom showed love to him and his brother differently, how he doesn’t know who his biological father is, and all this anger is roiling just below the surface as Dominick enters adulthood.
Dominick meets a wonderful girl, Dessa, and they get married. Unfortunately, when they eventually have a child and the child dies three weeks after being born (probably due to SIDS), their marriage falls apart and Dominick is stuck with what he’s always been stuck with: his brother.
When Thomas cut off his hand, he was admitted into a high security mental hospital instead of the medium security mental hospital he’d previously been in and out of. Because of this, he has a new therapist, Dr. Patel, who thinks it will be helpful if she learns of Thomas’ history from Dominick (basically, learn about the crazy person’s history from the sane person). In this roundabout way, Dominick begins therapy and begins healing.
Some people thought that the author beats you over the head with Dominick’s anger. Curse words are abundant, and there is a particularly disturbing rape scene involving Dominick and Dessa. But I didn’t feel like any of it was over the top. Some of it made me cringe, yes, but that’s who Dominick is. He’s angry.
There’s also a book within the book, the story of Thomas and Dominick’s grandfather, which he wrote and finished shortly before he passed away. This story is read in snippets by Dominick, and while the guy is a pompous windbag, it’s interesting to see similarities in Dominick and his grandfather, even when Dominick finds his grandfather to be insufferable.
I Know This Much Is True is filled with vivid characters, characters that come to life, characters that you will think about later and wonder if that was something a friend did or whether it was something you read. The writing seems to be that of a seasoned author, rather than someone who had, up to this point, only had one other book published. I was filled with wonder the deeper I delved into this book, as Wally Lamb has such a clear vision of his characters.
This is still one of my all-time favorite books. It’s a complex, deep, and moving book that you won’t soon forget.
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