Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book Review: I Know This Much Is True

When Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" comes on the radio, I always think of my sister, even though it's really a romantic love song. The music just speaks so clearly to me of my sister's personality and irrepressible joy, and I love hearing it because it is so happy and I get to feel like my sister is there with me, no matter where I am. My sister is phenomenal. I'm impressed by her every day, and I so appreciate the fact that our parents raised us - along with my brother - with the understanding that feelings matter, and open love matters, and your family matters. There will be rough times, but in the end, you love each other in a way you won't ever love anyone else.

That's where this book sits for me.

I Know This Much Is True is about a lot of things, but it's first and foremost about loving your family even when they are broken beyond repair. The story follows a pair of twins, one of whom is schizophrenic, and as the healthy brother tries to advocate and save his brother, the story sprawls out into their family history, starting with their nuclear family and moving back generation by generation. The ending is a literary feat I always admire, too. It comes out clean and shiny - no mean feat considering the darkness that author Wally Lamb freely plunges into - but avoids feeling like a groan-worthy "and then they all lived happily ever after" closing.

Most important, though, is Lamb's writing. My mom banned me from reading She's Come Undone, Lamb's freshman outing, and in retrospect I can see why. I learned to read quite early and spent most of my life reading whatever I could reach in the house, and Mom (to her eternal credit, if you ask me) forbade very little of this, but Undone was firmly on the "oh no you don't" list. Without having read it (...yet), I think I get why Mom would keep it away from me; Lamb's ability to cut to the core of his fully realized characters to lay bare the most intense pain and the most consuming happiness is often difficult to read. There are so few books that can create actual heartache...not a generic sadness but an actual ache in your heart. This isn't a failure of literature, but a testament to the rarity of people who understand and convey that kind of depth. When Undone came out, I wasn't old enough and quite possibly wasn't tough enough to read the book for what it was.

Worth a read, not easy, not hard, beautiful writing and wonderful commentary on love. If you're a Niall Williams fan you will love this.


  1. What is She's Come Undone supposedly about and why did she ban you from reading it?

  2. I actually really despised this book for a number of reasons, but mostly because I felt like Lamb got out of control with the ridiculousness of Dominic's experiences. Lots of the things he experienced felt contrived and that jolted me from the waking dream. I do think it was extremely well written, and I enjoyed Dominic's voice throughout.