Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

I've been making an effort to read some of the books from Oprah's Book Club list that I haven't yet read.  A long time ago I read Wally Lamb's novel I Know This Much is True and was really disturbed and moved by its story of twin brothers, one with schizophrenia.  I loved the challenging range of questions it posed, and I think that I connected to their story because of a distant cousin I had who also suffered from schizophrenia.  This led me to want to read She's Come Undone, which was quite the reading experience.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years.

Meet Dolores Price. She's 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she's determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before she really goes under."

Review:   Dolores is the strangest, craziest character I feel like I've encountered in a very long time.  Although I get why she ended up holing up in a room, eating her way to 257 pounds and shutting people out, her reaction to the events of her life still felt bizarre and even jarring.  Throughout the course of the book, we see Delores grow up from a little girl to a middle-aged woman.  She goes from grade school and backyard swimming parties, to college and a strange road trip across country.  From the innocence of her youth though, we see the events that cause her to shift and become less self assured, less self aware, and less able to cope with life.  In short, she falls apart and we are privy to each step along the way and after.

I'm still not 100% sure how to respond to the novel, since it is complex, just as humans are complex.  The entire story is very centered on Delores, her challenges, and her responses.  Although we meet a lot of other characters over the course of her life, it is as if Wally Lamb wrote us into the head of this odd character.  At times, I felt anxious and torn apart because of this viewpoint, but it strangely made Delores that much more sympathetic.  Without giving anything away, Delores does some crazy things in response to her life situations, and I often wondered if she ever really loved anyone?  There are moments that you think she has quieted the demons inside herself enough to allow people in, but then we realize that she has been playing at her own life.  In short, she never really seems to be able to let people in.

How can I sum up this strange novel without exposing all that happens?  I really can't.  Needless to say, I still found myself completely engaged in the novel and couldn't stop thinking about it.  Lamb has a really interesting writing style that grabs you with its details and cultural references.  It's hard to stop flipping pages once you start reading, and I can say I found that to be true in both of his books that I've read.  Is She's Come Undone a happy, feel-good novel?  I didn't think so, but it is the type of read that is unlike anything else, with complex characters and stories around every bend! 

Strangely, I'll never look at water and whales in quite the same way, ever again.  I tried to seek out a few other bloggers who have read and reviewed this novel, but couldn't find any after a basic search.  If you want more specifics or to learn more, you might check out the reviews posted on Goodreads.  Readers either seem to love or loathe it (listed in "Books I Loathed").  Check out some of those reviews, and if you have read it, let me know!  I'd love to hear some other takes on the novel.


  1. I read this many years ago but remember being so moved by the book and stunned that a man had written it (he does such a great job with his female character).

    You are correct - its complex but that is what I loved about it!

  2. I have to confess, I have zero interest in reading this novel. It probably is good, but just the phrase "coming of age odyssey" alone is enough to put me off.

  3. I read this book about 10 years ago and loved it. Well, to be fair, I've enjoyed ALL of Wally Lamb's books.

  4. This book is on my all time favorite list. I re-read it last year and still loved it.

  5. I read this so many years ago but I know I loved it. I've actually been hoping to re-read it one of these days. Seeing your review has started me thinking about it again.

  6. Thanks guys. It sounds like it's a definite love for many of you! I'm still out on whether I love that one or not. Thanks for the feedback, which helps me think about how the novel has been received. I really appreciate all your comments!

  7. I can't praise this book enough. I would recommend it to teenage girls everywhere. The first time I read it I was about 14, and have recommended and loaned and re-purchased this book more times than I can remember. I currently own 2 copies. What an awesome story, and Dolores is an amazing character.