Fiction – paperback; Harper Torch/Regan Books; 894 pages; 2003.
Wally Lamb’s This Much is True, originally published in 1998, is an epic family drama that is difficult to put down.
It opens with Dominick Birdsey’s twin brother, Thomas, committing an atrociously disturbing act in the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library. It is October 1990 and the act is a form of protest against the impending Gulf War.
From here the reader is transported into a world of pain, longing, confusion and anger. By jumping backwards and forwards in time we learn of the Birdsey twins’ upbringing, about their lives with a miserable, abusive step-father and their weak-willed defenseless mother. Intertwined in this narrative is another about the Birdsey’s maternal grandfather, an Italian immigrant whose arrogance and misogynist ways ricochet through the generations.
Much of the book centres on Dominick’s fight to rescue the schizophrenic Thomas from a barbaric mental health institution. Throw in one doomed relationship with a floozy a decade younger than himself, a failed marriage, a cot death, a mother dying from cancer and a couple of horrendous accidents (in a car and off a ladder) — sounds like a soap opera, doesn’t it? — and is it any wonder that the narrator spends most of this tale in therapy?
I Know This Much Is True is very reminiscent of Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. It’s a heart-wrenching tale about one man’s search for forgiveness and of how he comes to terms with a dark, emotional past. It’s received rave reviews, been added to Oprah’s Book Club and topped the New York bestseller list — with good reason. This is not so much a book to read but to live with and absorb. I thought it was brilliant.