Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

While I am a reader who usually doesn't "play favorites" (mostly because it's just so hard to choose), I have to say that Wally Lamb is one of my favorite authors. I've only read two of his works, this one and I Know This Much Is True, but I've loved every word of both of them...and for very different reasons, which tells me that I'm on the right track. This book was purchased during my college years (probably at Target, as that's the only place I shopped back then). I actually finished this book last Monday, while I was spending seven hours in the Baltimore airport, waiting for the next flight to Florida, since my original flight was delayed and I missed my earlier connection.

I first read She's Come Undone in college, probably my freshman or sophomore year. It's hard for me to remember exactly when it was, since I didn't keep track of my reading back then. I remember the book being only okay for me when I read it in college, so I wanted to re-read it as an adult to see if my perceptions or understanding of it changed at all. I'm such a different person than I was in those early college years that I felt sure the experience would be different for me now than it was then. And I was right.

********SPOILERS AHEAD***************

The book is the story of Dolores Price, from childhood through adulthood, set in the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's. She is a fairly normal child, but then her parents' divorce and her mother's ensuing mental illness throw her a little off track. When she is raped by the upstairs neighbor, she comes fully unraveled. Her mother soothes her own guilt over the rape by giving Dolores everything she wants, which includes food, food, and more food. Eventually, Dolores becomes morbidly obese and withdrawn from the world because of her obesity. When her mother is killed in an accident, Dolores decides to grant her mother's last wish and go to college. However, she is nothing like the other girls and is bullied and taken advantage of by them. Finally, she leaves college and descends into the mental illness that has been nipping at her heels since her mother died. She spends the next seven years at Gracewood, a mental institution, letting go of her anger, her despair, and her extra weight. When she leaves Gracewood, perhaps she is not quite fully "cured," as she sets out to find her college roommate's ex-boyfriend, whom she has obsessed over for years. She finds and marries him, only to find that the reality of Dante is not what she had created in her mind. It is only after her divorce, when she is focused on herself, that she meets her equal and earns her happily ever after.

I remember being extremely depressed by the subject-matter of the book, and that part hasn't changed. At least for me, this book was just so, so sad. Dolores Price is a protagonist who makes you want to root for her, but her life is just one sorry episode after another. I really related to her, having been significantly overweight for most of my adult life, and having struggled with the psychological issues that attend the physical. However, I think I have a bit more spunk than Dolores and, as a result, I refused to play the victim or let others victimize me. Dolores, on the other hand, was continually the victim: first of Jack Speight's rape, then of the bullying and cruelty of the other girls at college, then of Dante's thoughtlessness and selfishness. When she finally realizes that she is owed more from the world, I was so happy and excited for her. Lamb did a great job in making his protagonist both repellant and loveable at the same time.

Overall, I'd give this book four and a half out of five Whatevers. I cried and cried throughout the book. Recommended for those who love a good tearjerker, or those who enjoy a psychologically complex heroine, as Dolores Price is the most complex I've experienced in a long while.


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