My friend lent me She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb's debut novel, months ago when we planned to see the author at a book-signing event for his latest effort. Of all his books, this one is her favorite, and she's read it several times. Years ago, my sister and dad also read and recommended this book to me. Even Oprah endorsed it. (Since Oprah has spoken, maybe this review isn't necessary, as I may be one of the last people to read this book.)
When I started reading She's Come Undone, my dad warned me to block off chunks of time because I won't want to put it down. I'm passing that advice on to you in case you don't belong to Oprah's Book Club and haven't yet read it. Although my friend and I never made it to Wally Lamb's book-signing event, I finished She's Come Undone just before Thanksgiving - after a few hermit-like days and very late nights.
To refresh my sister's memory of the plot of this story a few weeks ago, I said something like this: "It's about this girl whose parents split up when she's a kid, and then she gets raped by a neighbor when she's 13, and her mother's got her own problems and goes in and out of mental hospitals. So she gets depressed and eats and eats and eats and gains all this weight, and--" Before I finished my laundry list of drama, my sister sarcastically responded, "That sounds....great."
But it is! Yes, the main character Dolores Price suffers hardship that no one deserves and builds a concrete defensive wall because of it, but she defiantly makes it through to the other side, never losing her biting sense of humor. Now at peace with her past, she recalls the events of her life - parental divorce, sexual assault, bullying, secrets, lies, deaths, and rebirths - with a clarity that places you right there next to her.
Dolores's story spans nearly four decades, starting in the 1950s, as she grows from grade school to adulthood. You stick with her though her darkest times, put up with her understandable cynicism, and witness her rewarding resilience. Wally Lamb amazing storytelling captures the times with precision, from the introduction of television in the '50s to the AIDS epidemic in the '80s. He introduces a cast of unforgettable characters that are at the same time unique and recognizable no matter your background. His vivid writing places you in the moment - through the voice of a young girl who grows into a womanhood. Through Dolores's eyes, you visualize these realistic portrayals and feel their experiences: the tension of the shouting matches with her mother, the uncertainty of her grandmother on how to handle the two younger generations sharing her home, the sliminess of the neighbor who steals her innocence, the meanness of the cliquey college girls behind their sweet smiles, the convoluted complications of her relationships, and the genuine care of the mentors and therapists searching for ways to help her rise above it all.
The way she succeeds reminds me of Conrad in one of my favorite movies, Ordinary People (though I never read that book). In it, Conrad (Timothy Hutton) suffers similarly through trauma but eventually makes it through those experiences and learns how to accept himself. Rather than wallow in the sadness of these kinds of stories, I feel relieved and happy when the protagonists find ways to move their lives forward with a positive outlook. The same happened as I read Dolores's story: I was thrilled when she let her fears and deceptions fall away, having finally realized the worth, goodness, and strength she'd always possessed.
Like Ordinary People, She's Come Undone has a very satisfying ending that makes the hard journey to get there well worth taking. Just clear your schedules before you start.