With his stunning debut novel, She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb won the adulation of critics and readers with his mesmerizing tale of one woman's painful yet triumphant journey of self-discovery. Now, this brilliantly talented writer returns with I Know This Much Is True, a heartbreaking and poignant multigenerational saga of the reproductive bonds of destruction and the powerful force of forgiveness. A masterpiece that breathtakingly tells a story of alienation and connection, power and abuse, devastation and renewal--this novel is a contemporary retelling of an ancient Hindu myth. A proud king must confront his demons to achieve salvation. Change yourself, the myth instructs, and you will inhabit a renovated world.
When you're the same brother of a schizophrenic identical twin, the tricky thing about saving yourself is the blood it leaves on your bands--the little inconvenience of the look-alike corpse at your feet. And if you're into both survival of the fittest and being your brother's keeper--if you've promised your dying mother--then say so long to sleep and hello to the middle of the night. Grab a book or a beer. Get used to Letterman's gap-toothed smile of the absurd, or the view of the bedroom ceiling, or the influence of random selection. Take it from a godless insomniac. Take it from the uncrazy twin--the guy who beat the biochemical rap.
Dominick Birdsey's entire life has been compromised and constricted by anger and fear, by the paranoid schizophrenic twin brother he both deeply loves and resents, and by the past they shared with their adoptive father, Ray, a spit-and-polish ex-Navy man (the five-foot-six-inch sleeping giant who snoozed upstairs weekdays in the spare room and built submarines at night), and their long-suffering mother, Concettina, a timid woman with a harelip that made her shy and self-conscious: She holds a loose fist to her face to cover her defective mouth--her perpetual apology to the world for a birth defect over which she'd had no control.
Born in the waning moments of 1949 and the opening minutes of 1950, the twins are physical mirror images who grow into separate yet connected entities: the seemingly strong and protective yet fearful Dominick, his mother's watchful "monkey"; and the seemingly weak and sweet yet noble Thomas, his mother's gentle "bunny." From childhood, Dominick fights for both separation and wholeness--and ultimately self-protection--in a house of fear dominated by Ray, a bully who abuses his power over these stepsons whose biological father is a mystery. I was still afraid of his anger but saw how he punished weakness--pounced on it. Out of self-preservation I hid my fear, Dominick confesses. As for Thomas, he just never knew how to play defense. He just didn't get it.
But Dominick's talent for survival comes at an enormous cost, including the breakup of his marriage to the warm, beautiful Dessa, whom he still loves. And it will be put to the ultimate test when Thomas, a Bible-spouting zealot, commits an unthinkable act that threatens the tenuous balance of both his and Dominick's lives.
To save himself, Dominick must confront not only the pain of his past but the dark secrets he has locked deep within himself, and the sins of his ancestors--a quest that will lead him beyond the confines of his blue-collar New England town to the volcanic foothills of Sicily 's Mount Etna, where his ambitious and vengefully proud grandfather and a namesake Domenico Tempesta, the sostegno del famiglia, was born. Each of the stories Ma told us about Papa reinforced the message that he was the boss, that he ruled the roost, that what he said went.
Oprah Book Club® Selection, June 1998: What if you were a 40-year-old housepainter, horrifically abused, emotionally unavailable, and your identical twin was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed in public self-mutilation? You'd either be a guest on the Jerry Springer Show or Dominick Birdsey, the antihero, narrator, and bad-juju magnet of I Know This Much Is True. Somewhere in the recesses of this hefty 912-page tome lurks an honest, moving account of one man's search, denial, and acceptance of self. This is no easy feat considering his grandfather seemed to take parenting tips from the SS and his grandmother was a possible teenage murderess, his stepfather a latent sadist, and his brother, Thomas, a politically motivated psychopath. Not one to break with tradition, Dominick continues the dysfunctional legacy with rape, a failed marriage, a nervous breakdown, SIDS, a car crash, and a racist conspiracy against a coworker--just to name a few.
A stretch, both literally and figuratively from his Oprah-christened bestseller, She's Come Undone, Lamb's book ventures outside the confines of the tightly bound beach read and marathons through a detailed, neatly cataloged account of every familial travesty and personal failure one can endure. At its heart lies Freud's "return of the repressed": the more we try to deny who we are, the more we become what we fear. Lamb takes Freud's psychological abstraction to the realm of everyday living, packing his novel with tender, believable dialogue and thoughtful observation. --Rebekah Warren
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