This behemouth of a book took me a little over two weeks to finish, so I thought that it would be a a good idea to let some thoughts stew before writing the review. Also, this review serves as a wonderful distraction from having to write my Children’s Literature paper thats due in less than 12 hours. And so, on to the review!
I Know This Much is True, written by Wally Lamb, clocks in at just under 900 pages (like, literally, at 899) and has a pretty epic story, but one of the things I like most about it is that it doesn’t feel like a 900 page book. The story revolves around a pair of identical twins, Dom (Dominick) and Thomas. At the very beginning of the book, the reader learns that Thomas has cut off his own hand in an attempt at political protest, hoping that this action, in all of its severity, will draw media attention to the act and hopefully stop the impending war in the middle East. Also, Thomas is a paranoid schizophrenic, which takes on new importance throughout the book as Dominick struggles with the fact that he looks the same as his brother, but is so inherently different.
* SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*
Dominick’s life, as we come to understand throughout the book, is reflected on as a life of losses. He loses the chance to have a real life independently for himself when he promises his mother on her death bed that he’ll look after Thomas. He looses his wife after their infant daughter dies of SIDS and Dominick loses himself in his grief and anger. He loses his sense of self when Thomas dies, and when he discovers some less than appealing aspects of his family history. All in all, the book is not what one would consider an ‘upper’, but it has its moments of beauty and simplicity woven throughout.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the book is just how wonderfully Lamb intermingles his stories to give a full 360 degree view of the life of one man, a life of both personal tragedy and, ultimately, a life of hope. A friend of mine who is now reading the book described it as “everything bad that could possibly happen to a person” and while a lot of bad things do happen to and around Dominick, that’s not what the story ultimately is. Lamb does a wonderful job with Dominick’s grandfather’s manuscript describing how the family immigrated from Italy and how the family set down roots. It’s also amazing how well Lamb is able to portray the descent from Thomas’s normal life in to deeper and deeper schizophrenia.
The book is sad. I’m just going to put that out there so that there are no surprises. However, by the end of the book, there is more going on than just the sadness. There is a kind of redemptive hope, the idea that despite a person’s history and family, success is still ultimately up to the person at hand. Along the same lines, happiness is also portrayed as a choice. Dominick has every right to live his life as a bitter and angry person – he’s had horrible things happen to both he and his family. However, by the end of the novel he realizes that there is no reason to live a bitter and angry life. It’s a lesson that’s important to learn, and one that a lot of people never do. It’s still not one I’ve mastered, and I’m hoping that the full understand will come along eventually.
I Know This Much is True is a powerful book, and a longer one to undertake, but it’s especially good because it is one of those books that can also be read in the background of other reading. The story is gripping and the characters are rounded, and although it may not be the best reading if you’re looking for laughs, I can’t NOT recommend it! On the nightstand now is The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst and The Canon: A Whirling Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science which are ENTIRELY different and wonderful in their own ways. Reviews to come! Happy reading!