Shane's Reviews > I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
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really liked it

I would liked to have given this novel five stars for keeping me engrossed and interested right through, but the excessive detail in sections and the desire to tie up all the loose ends into a happy ending sort of moved it into the Nicholas Sparks category for me - 4 stars would suffice.

Right from the opening chapter when the sweet-hearted but mentally troubled twin Thomas mutilates himself in a public library, this book grabs you with its cast of quirky characters: a mother with a harelip, a bullying stepfather, a self-aggrandizing grandfather, a sexually predatory translator, a surly Wequonnoc native, and Dominic the angry twin who is also the narrator, and a host of others. Everyone keeps secrets, some destructive when finally revealed. The incidents are equally unusual: a decapitation of Biblical proportions, an exploding TV set, Grandpa Domenico’s fantastical life story, the whodunnit search for the real father of the Birdsey Twins. Then there are the syrupy, Nicholas Sparks moments: a girlfriend suffering from AIDS, a mother dying of cancer, tragic falls off rooftops, drowning deaths, SIDS, suicides by waterfalls, tear-jerking moments of atonement between characters. It appears that Lamb took all the elements that are considered necessary for a bestseller and dumped them into this book, and it took him 900 pages to accomplish that.

The central conflict is the anger in Dominic Birdsey, tired of being his schizophrenic brother’s keeper from the day they were born. Dominic hungers for his mother’s affection which she showers on the vulnerable Thomas instead. Dominic tries to stand up to his bullying stepfather, Ray, to protect Thomas, and is not always successful; the scars the twins endure from Ray spill into adulthood. Dominic tries to protect Thomas while the latter is incarcerated in mental institutions, again not always successfully. When he finally springs Thomas from the Hatch correctional centre, Thomas does not repay him as expected. Dominic’s anger also ruins his relationships; with his wife Dessa, with his girlfriend Joy, with Ray; only his friend and brother-in-law Leo, himself a colourful character who fancies himself a Hollywood actor but is only a humble car salesman, sticks by Dominic through the ups and downs. Lamb re-incarnates the same conflicts in each generation: mysoginy, betrayal, secrecy, sibling rivalry and mental illness. Dominic, the stronger and healthier twin, begins to come apart at the seams and submits to the help of a psychologist, Dr, Patel, in trying to unravel his convoluted family burden. I found the sessions with Dr. Patel were too long, almost as if I was sitting in real sessions with my psychologist.

Three story lines weave in and out of the narrative: the early life of the Birdseys from 1950 - 69 culminating in Thomas’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, 1990 and beyond beginning when Thomas self-mutilates in the library, and the autobiography of Grandpa Domenico Tempesta that Dominic is reading in dribs and drabs in the attempt to unravel who his real father is. I felt that given the book’s voluminous length, we could have ended when Domenico’s story concluded, leaving us with a hint of who the twins’ real father could have been, but Lamb went for certainty and for tying up the loose ends, and so we plodded along for another 60 pages. Given the setting, and the last half of the 20th century in America being covered, it appears that Lamb used quite a bit of autobiographical detail to plumb deep into this dysfunctional family story.

Having finished the book, I sat back and reflected on what its central messages were: that success comes after plunging through trial, that secrets destroy relationships, that love surfaces no matter how hard we try to submerge it, that the sins of the fathers and grandfathers are poignant signposts for us in life, no matter how dastardly they were, and that anger needs to be sublimated. The title seems to emphasize that Lamb wanted us to learn these lessons, because he knew them to be true.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an engaging but long read. The writing is alternatively witty, sad, agonizing and rich in detail, and the voices are distinct.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 24, 2019 – Shelved
January 24, 2019 – Finished Reading

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