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She's Come Undone
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Group Read Book Discussions > May Discussion - She's Come Undone

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message 1: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3120 comments Mod
Starting this thread for the discussion of She's Come Undone. Our discussion leader will be Julie.


Julie (julmille) | 389 comments Happy May Day to all! I usually start my discussions with this question...Why did you choose to read this book? I chose this book because it was an Oprah Book (I am a sucker for her picks) AND because my in-person book club chose this book. I read it in the airplane on my way to visit my best friend who lives on Hilton Head Island and while on the beach. I thought this was a very good book and am excited to discuss it!


Jolene (SmithJolene) | 104 comments I read this book many years ago and really enjoyed it. I love Wally Lamb's writing and I remember being so impressed that he was able to capture a female's emotions/thoughts the way he did.


Scout (goodreadscomscout) I enjoyed this book when I read it years ago, also. It's the only library book I've ever dropped into the bath, so now I own it (a crinkled copy:)


fivesunflowers | 102 comments Scout wrote: "I enjoyed this book when I read it years ago, also. It's the only library book I've ever dropped into the bath, so now I own it (a crinkled copy:)"

LOL, Scout! That's hilarious. I thought I was the only person that reads in the bath :")


fivesunflowers | 102 comments Just started reading it, only a few chapters in. I choose to read this book strictly by it being chosen by this group! It has already sucked me in and I am really impressed by Wally Lamb's writing style and main character.


Sandra (Sandee) | 327 comments Wally Lamb is a great writer. This is one of those books that I started and I was into it and then something happened that I just stopped reading for a bit...so I am excited to pick it up again today after work.


message 8: by Kiana (new)

Kiana Davenport | 51 comments Wally Lamb is a beautiful writer and not every male writer can capture a woman's emotions and interior dialogues the way he did. Its a rare art. With most of literature, and that includes the classics, only the best best writers can really capture the essence and persona of a woman.

Whereas I find women writers can much more easily create and refine and enhance male characters. Its because by nature we are more sympathetic and empathetic. Though I'm sure not all of you will agree with me. I loved and highly recommend SHE'S COME UNDONE. Also love the title! Happy Reading!
Kiana Davenport, author of House of Skin, and Cannibal Nights


Julie (julmille) | 389 comments Dolores' earliest memory revolves around the day her family received their first television set. Discuss the prevalence of popular culture in the novel, both in the shaping of Dolores' identity and the world she lives in.


Irene | 2430 comments I just got my hands on a copy from the library yesterday, but could not start it because I had over a 12 hour day at work yesterday. I am reading it because it is the COL pick. But, I have always heard wonderful things about Wally Lamb, so am excited about being able to read one of his.


Jo (Bloomin'Chick) (BloominChick) I read the novel when it was first in paperback and before it was an Oprah bookclub selection. It has stuck with me ever since. I read it in 3 days, couldn't put it down! I haven't been able to bring myself to re-read it though, it was a very emotional read the first time.


message 12: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Neftzger (neftzger) | 240 comments My copy just arrived in the mail! I had a friend who read this when it came out and she loved it. I think I was still in graduate school at the time and was too busy to do much reading for fun, so now is my chance. Looking forward to reading this with the group.


Julie (julmille) | 389 comments I agree Jo, very emotional book. Is there something in the book that struck anyone that they just can't forget? What I can't forget is when she dumped bleach in the fish tank to kill all the fish. I don't know why, but that just struck me.


Julie (julmille) | 389 comments How does Dolores' life parallel her mother's and how does she ultimately triumph and move beyond her tie to her mother's failures?


message 15: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth Jo wrote: "I read the novel when it was first in paperback and before it was an Oprah bookclub selection. It has stuck with me ever since. I read it in 3 days, couldn't put it down! I haven't been able to b..."

I read it back in the day as well and enjoyed it a great deal. RE-reading it now and it seems like a different story. Guess I have a different perspective 20 years later. And I'm reading it along with Gibbon's Site Unseen (bipolar mother) and Southgate's Taste of Salt (alcoholic father, brother) ~ 'crazy' mix.


Irene | 2430 comments I read it over the weekend. Well... I had a friend pick up the audible book from the library for me. I was surprised at some of the sudden transitions. When I was listening to the final credits, I discovered that it was abridged. So, I don't know how much I lost. Boohiss!

Well, obviously, Dolores and her mother have surprisingly parallel lives. Although we learn nearly nothing about the mother's childhood, the reaction of the grandmother indicates that there was some shameful secret in the mother's family of origin. Both marry a charmer with a dark side, a man who is unfaithful and has violent mood swings. Both are divorced, but Dolores initiates the divorce where as the mother is the one who is left. Both have devistating experiences that serve as catelysts for eventual psychic breaks. Both are hospitalized. Both return to their childhood home for refuge after their divorces. But the mother dies before she can ever seem to get her life started again where as it appears that Dolores may be able to grasp that illussive second chance.


Jo (Bloomin'Chick) (BloominChick) Julie wrote: "I agree Jo, very emotional book. Is there something in the book that struck anyone that they just can't forget? What I can't forget is when she dumped bleach in the fish tank to kill all the fish..."

Dolores's loneliness sticks with me to this day.

I'm tempted to re-read it but I tend to not re-read novels I loved when I was younger because it tends to kick them out of my all time fave category & that's just too disappointing! lol


Irene | 2430 comments I found the contrast between Dolores and Dolly intriguing. On one level they are very much alike. Both are socially allienated, condemned by the "normal" folks on just their appearance. Both crave acceptance. Both are extremely lonely, deeply sad, filled with pain and self medicating with over eating. But, Dolly has found a way of psychically surviving. Dolly can recognize and respond to pain in another and is willing to take the risk. Dolly will probably never have a psychic break, never get any help. She has reached a livable place. Dolores destroys Dolly, the one person who reaches out to her, even if horribly imperfectly. Dolores has a public break that gets her extensive help. Is Dolly supposed to be the picture of Dolores if no one is sent to find her on the beach that night? Would Dolores have navigated the pain and lonliness, moved into a dead end job and continued to take comfort in food or another addiction?

I also wonder about the fish. Dolores was fascinated with wales and Dolly surrounds herself with tropical fish. At first I thought the connection between Dolores and the whales was size, but Dolly's fish makes me question if there isn't something else going on.


message 19: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth Oh, hadn't thought about comparing the little fish and the big ones. Will have to let that swim around a bit in my stream of consciousness.


Irene | 2430 comments LOL, Like the pun, Ruth. But, maybe that is it, the swimming around getting no where until one is beached, flirting with death, in need of rescue. Maybe by dumping bleech into the tanks, Dolores is trying to kill off what she perceives as her own pointless existence.


Jessica | 68 comments There is another difference between whales and fish: whales are mammals. As I am thinking about it, whales seem more comparable to people; they live in communities, are raised by their mothers, travel together (and in the case of the pod of beached whales, can get very lost together). So Dolores is obsessed with whales which is still a creature kin biologically and socially to humans but Dolly likes fish, thus even more isolating herself from human interaction. Dolly "loves" Dolores after just a week of hanging out, clearly she is starved for a human connection. Maybe that was her psychic break: obsessing over and then seducing a teenage girl.


Irene | 2430 comments Interesting observation Jessica. I thought the similarity in the two names note-worthy. It almost made me wonder if Dolly was real or just a projection of Dolores of herself into the future. They seem equally angry and distrustful of other people. Dolores seems headed for a similar life of dead end jobs, social isolation and quiet despair. Dolly is accused of watchin the girls in the showers. Dolores definitely observes life rather than engage in it. We see her watching TV for hours and hours, not doing anything or interacting with anyone. Dolores is drawn to the TV from the opening of the book when she is only 4 and that becomes a perminent escape after the rape. And, fish as a pet is about observation. You can't play with, cuddle with, really interact with fish in a tank. You simply feed and watch them. So, Dolly's accusation of watching the dorm girls is paralleled by her watching her own fish.

I also thought it was interesting that water plays sucha central role in Dolores's recovery process. Maybe, Jessica, that is the connection to the mothering image of whales because that swimming pool was all about re-mothering.


message 23: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Neftzger (neftzger) | 240 comments I still haven't finished the book, but another difference I noticed between the whales and the fish is that the tropical fish weren't free - they were trapped in the tank. Dolores may have killed them as a way to set them free. I think that Dolores feels trapped in a number of ways (she feels that people "put her in a box" because of her weight and don't see anything else about her). Interesting that the whales were free and yet for some reason made a choice to destroy themselves. I think Dolores identifies with this aspect of them.


Jessica | 68 comments Irene, that is so true about observation. Dolly can't interact with the only living things in her home; very interesting. It feels like a lot of the characters in the book WATCH life instead of LIVING it. When Dolores' mom does try to "live" life (albeit in her own messed up way) Dolores thinks she is crazy, or slutty; she can't relate to her mother's desire to participate in life instead of just observing it.

This is fascinating. This discussion is really adding dept to the book for me.

We have talked a lot about why Dolores kills the fish. In the book, during her therapy, she says it is because she was mad at the boy from the dance (can't remember name and book is at home). Do we not believe her and that is why we are coming up with our own hypotheses?


Irene | 2430 comments Actually, nothing so profound as not believing the words of the character... I just don't remember her saying that in therapy. But, at the same time, I do wonder about an act that is so violent, so destructive yet completely unrelated to the supposed target of the anger. She is certainly angry at the taunting boy, but also at the entire group of freshmen who stood and laughed. And, she is angry at Dolly. But, she seems more angry at herself than at Dolly. Dolly does not rape her. She accepts the offer with a "what the hell" attitude. She hurts Dolly, not the boy. She kills the fish who did nothing to her. So, while I believe that the boy was the proximate source of her anger that night, I am not convinced that the two can be so easily connected.


message 26: by Marilyn (new)

Marilyn Polito | 1 comments I finished this book last night. It was the only novel by this author that I have read. I really enjoyed his wonderfully descriptive writing style which easily captured my emotions as I read. I am a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner so the sexual/marital violence scenarios and ensuing impact on three generations of women was easy for me to imagine. I did have trouble understanding the Dolly and fish drowning scenarios and was interested in your thoughts on that.
The hopeful but not "happy ever after" ending was masterful and authentic feeling to me.


Jessica | 68 comments That is an intense job Marilyn.

I wonder if anyone else felt like Dolores was using her assault as an umbrella explanation for all of her feelings. She was mad at her mom, her dad, her grandmother and she traced it all back to that. I can see, like Marilyn, how such a horrible experience could have long-reaching impacts but I wondered at times if Dolores was using that.

I might not be explaining myself well here. And I do not, in any way, want to marginalize the effects a sexual assault can have on a person. But for example, I do remember, at one point in the narrative Dolores and her mom are arguing about something and Dolores says she is mad because she was raped. I felt almost like she was using that as a manipulation tool against her mother. Did anyone else think perhaps Dolores was using her tragedy when it benefited her or do we all think she genuinely felt all those feelings because of the assault?


Irene | 2430 comments Jessica, Dolores was sliding into social isolation and anger prior to the rape. Losing both parents at the brink of adolescents and being forced into a new home and school was difficult. The resentment was present. But, she still tries to connect. She wants to have friends, to avoid the cruelty of the twins, to bond, with her mother, with the neighbor upstairs, with the tatoo lady. But, after the rape, we see more and more of a withdraw and an overwhelming anger and depression. I am not sure if that psychic break would have come some day, with or without the rape. The fact that her mother experienced abreak indicates that her chances are higher. But, I think most of the other situations were cumulative. It was harder for a teen to say that I am angry and hurting because you yanked me out of my circle of friends and dropped me into this scool where no one likes me, because I have a mother who is crazy, a father who abandoned me, a grandmother who can't show affection to me. But, it is acceptable to say that I am angry and hurting and frustrated and confused because I was raped. The former will get adults who will tell her to get over it, life stinks. The later will get her some sympathy.

One scene that keeps circling in the back of my mind is the two weeks she spends with her father just before the divorce, when the mother visits the grandmother. In particular, the time when they go swimming and the father pinches her budding nipples and comments on her developing body. That seemed as if we were skating very close to inappropriate touch. Did he set her up for the aventual flurting with the neighbor which ends in her rape?


message 29: by Abby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby | 119 comments I am only about 18% in and feel I cannot contribute here until I finish, so I will return later. I've been trying not to read everyone's comments to keep the rest of the book a surprise. Dolores is just starting 8th grade - I have a ways to go!

See you all soon!


Julie (julmille) | 389 comments Throughout her life, no matter where she is, Dolores always feels like on outsider. What perspective of reality dictates her actions — is Dolores misguided or is she a victim of her circumstances?


Jessica | 68 comments Irene, I think you put that very well. She has a lot of feelings of anger (burning the doll at her dad's lover's house) long before the assault but that magnified them and gave her something to pin-point as the cause.

I also wondered about that moment. I knew throughout the first part of the book that something bad was coming. I could just feel it in the text. A friend of mine warned me about the bad thing in a way that I knew it was going to be a sexual assault. In that moment with her dad I wondered if he was the culprit but I thought maybe I was just being extra sensitive because I knew something bad was coming. Dolores never speaks negatively about her father for that action, so I figured I was being too sensitive. Glad to know I wasn't the only one who saw that as unsettling.

I think Irene brings up a good point that she didn't really have a good role model for what an appropriate male mentor would be like in her life because her dad obviously did not provide that for her. I find the word "flirting" an interesting idea in reference to her neighbor. Was she flirting with him? We know she was attracted to him but was she flirting or just passively accepting his flirtation much like she did with Dotty?


message 32: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Neftzger (neftzger) | 240 comments I finished the book this past weekend. One of the things I found most entertaining was watching Dante slowly go from one extreme to another (spoiler alert if you haven't finished the book yet!). In the beginning he didn't want to have sex with Kippy because of his strong religious views, then he became a vegetarian "poet" who didn't really believe in God and dissed the establishment, and then he finally wound up in law school where we could see the switch to a yuppie life.

As I was reading this I found several situations disturbing and kept wondering what someone who had gone through any similar situations as Dolores would think of the book.


Irene | 2430 comments Jessica, I think Dolores was flirting with the neighbor. And, I think it was very natural, little girl flirting. She was 13 and just beginning to experience male attraction. She is giggly and nervous, and attention getting and trying on big-girl interactions. If that creep was a normal, healthy adult, he would have been able to accept it and allowed a little girl try out the moves of her budding sexuality without deciding that it was a sexual come-on and raping her.


Jessica | 68 comments I was thinking this morning about Delores stopping her therapy. Did she do the right thing? or was it too soon?


message 35: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Neftzger (neftzger) | 240 comments It seemed to me like she was ready to move on and that her therapist had become a little too attached to the relationship.

However, she was obviously still working some things out. I wonder if what she really needed was a different therapist at that point rather than to quit altogether.


Irene | 2430 comments I have almost no background in psycology. The idea of a 7 year program, 4 of which involved daily sessions in residential care, semed excessive to me for someone who does not have a chronic condition such as schizophrenia. At the same time, her decision to chase after a man who she only knew from stolen letters and photos does not appear to be the decision of a healthy, rational mind. And, she is falling into a destructive relationship with this guy which is glaringly obvious to the reader long before she recognizes it.


Jessica | 68 comments I never thought about the length of the treatment. That does sound like a really long time when you put it that way. We also have to remember though that Dolores at that point was so closed off to any human interaction it was slower than it could have been. She does go right back to a bad pattern with men which worried me while I was reading it. Her interactions with Dante sound similar to the neighbors and even the therapist when she was being closed off "whatever don't have a cow about it" type reactions. I hoped that the therapy would be able to give her a different pattern and since it didn't do that I think she might have left pre-maturely. Perhaps she never would have gotten involved with Dante if she was still in therapy. Would that have been better in the long run?


message 38: by Abby (last edited May 17, 2012 10:03PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby | 119 comments Finished! I now feel prepared to discuss the book without fearing spoilers.

I thought she was ready to leave therapy. It was time. I didn't concentrate much on the time she was in therapy mostly because I was keeping in mind that it was the early 70s and maybe that's just how it was done. Dolores was scaffolded much, but her ability to work her job at the photo developer, even to the point of promotion, while maintaining decent relationships with coworkers and housemates was to me, an indication that she try to live on her own. It was quite dramatic that she went so far, and yes, to follow letters and polaroids. But, we're all a bit crazy anyway without needing therapy, no? ("Everyone, in some small sacred sanctuary of the self, is nuts." - Leo Rosten) Insanity is relative, I believe, and everyone needs to have their own experiences making mistakes and having to pick themselves up from them. Of course, it's nicer when there is someone there to help, but we don't always have that.

I find it interesting that Dolores' closest relationships were mostly with women, especially after her father left. Even if her relationships with women were dysfunctional, Dolores did not label them as such. It was men who screwed her up, not women.


Sandra (Sandee) | 327 comments I attempted to read this book awhile back, but I found that it gave me low self esteem and I cannot figure out why. It is just made me feel so down. I am going to finish it this weekend...I hope I have some St. John's Wort or Valarian Root in the house...lol.


message 40: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Neftzger (neftzger) | 240 comments Sandra, I found the book very depressing at times, also. It was sad to read about the hardships Dolores went through and watch her cope ineffectively with them.


Jessica | 68 comments I found the book actually impacted my emotions too Sandra. I just decided to roll with the story and ride the highs as much as the lows.

That is interesting Abby about her blaming only the men. She cuts off all connection with her Dad and I could never figure out why. Did he really do anything worse than her mother?


Julie (julmille) | 389 comments Of all the problems that Dolores faced, which do you think was her biggest obstacle? Did you have a favorite character? I enjoyed her high school counselor was it? and his partner? I read this so long ago, I can't remember his name.


message 43: by Abby (last edited May 21, 2012 04:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby | 119 comments I think dad was worse than mom because he left. Even with all the problems Dolores had with mom and grandma, they were there. They were the ones who stuck around. Also, Dolores really seemed to resent the fact that dad spent a great week with her with such a huge secret, that he was leaving. His inability to talk with his daughter hurt her, and left her with a distrust of others in general, that there was always something there that was going unsaid.

Yes, Julie, the high school counselor, Mr. Pucci, was great. His ability to connect without forcing anything was so good for Dolores, and gave her someone to think of as good.

I liked the minor characters a lot also: Domingos who drove her to Cape Cod; Mrs. Wing, her landlady; and Arthur/Jemal, the super-supportive teenaged son.


Irene | 2430 comments I did not pick up on an absence of male relationships or a failure to label her female relationships as dysfunctional. I thought there were very strong male relationships, both good and bad ones from her father who abandons the family to her psychiatrist who re-parents her, from her rapist to her guidance counciler, from the husband who is a repeat of her father to the man she comes to love in a healthy manner. And, I got the impression that she did understand the inadequacies of the women in her life, from the mother she rebels against to the grandmother who she only comes to appreciate many years later, after therapy, from the twins who she fears and resents to Dolly whose fish she poisons, from the roommate who she strongly dislikes ...

As for her father, I was glad that the mother was able to get away from him: unfaithful, violently abusive, verbally controlling, he would have given her the worse idea of what a husband should be. I think she married her father. I felt for Dolores' mother. She suffers a mental health crisis at a time when that was stigmatizing and prior to truly effective treatment. She was forced back into her childhood home with a mother would not or could not provide her any show of affection or support and who taught her daughter and granddaughter how to fear the world. A single woman with little marketable skills and who blamed herself for all the pain in her daughter's life, I think the mother did the best she knew how to do with the tools at her disposal.


Jessica | 68 comments There were so many interesting minor characters. The hippies did so much to broaden her horizons in a few short days. I also liked the hippy girl at college who is always trying to "fight the power" because she was not a stepford girl like the others so she was an outcast like Dolores. I liked Dolly a lot, and I am not really sure why other than she helped Dolores when she got there a week early.


message 46: by Abby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby | 119 comments That's interesting, Irene. Her relationships, good and bad, seem to have no gender bounds. However easy this is to see as a reader, for Dolores in the thick of it, she seems to crave the female connection more than just a connection in general. Even though she did finally build a relationship with her therapist, it was only after he "became" her mother. And as she was battling within her marriage to Dante, it was a female coworker she reached out to for companionship.

The story of Dolores seems to be a story of relationships, the good and bad, how they shape us, and how the way we respond to them will shape us.


message 47: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth There were various scenes that I found a bit uncomfortable reading - the therapist/mother thing being one. But still amazed at Mr Lamb's writing skills in capture the female characters and they're thoughts and actions. Impressive.


Irene | 2430 comments Abby, I guess that her tendency to look for female relationships did not catch my attention because I think I do the same thing. Yes, I have male friends. But, there is something special about my girlfriends. I think I relax with my female friends in a different way than I do with my guy friends.


message 49: by Abby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Abby | 119 comments Totally, Irene! Especially after becoming a mother I sought out others who were going through the same things. I just wonder if Dolores was looking for anything NOT male to attach to, why her therapist as mother was okay.


fivesunflowers | 102 comments okay. I just finished this book tonight and have not read any of the above thread just yet, but I want to give dozens of HUGS to whomever made this our group read! This has to be one of the most profound books I have read in a long time! Dolores Price is the new wonder woman -- I LOVED this book and do not understand the harsh critisms of this book. It IS a very intense book with lots of sensitive subjects but that is what makes it wonderful.


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