Reviews of sort

I find myself fascinated with common themes that run through the works of my favorite authors and novelists. Even if the writing is not autobiographical in nature it inevitably reveals more than it conceals about their motivations, their passions and the uniqueness of their message.

I remember reading Wally Lamb’s masterpiece – She’s Come Undone – seven or eight years ago. It was about Dolores, a girl who hailed from a broken home and had absolutely nothing going for her, no confidence, no prospects, a 257 lbs weight problem, a drug problem, you name it she had it. She had the most bizarre ailments possible. The event that turned things around for her was her finding herself washed up on a beach, following a suicide attempt, waking up staring straight into the dead eyes of a beached whale.

Quite a memorable scene, something a reader cannot easily forget, a pivot around which her whole life turns. The dead whale is an omen, as well as a metaphor for her life so far, a sign that she has hit rock bottom and that the only thing left for her to do, was to turn her life around and to start afresh.

Dolores does turn her life around then. She checks herself into a rehabilitation center and emerges a slimmer and more confident version of herself, someone well-equipped to start over.

Lamb’s biting humor, his portrayal of dysfunction in Dolores’ broken family, Dolores’ use of sarcasm as a defense mechanism, all made for an intense reading experience, making me examine the various ways in which I related to Dolores, even though my life is nothing like hers. She was essentially an observer, even while stumbling through life as she was. Her circumstances angered her, frustrated her, drove her to suicide while she remained someone who let life happen to her, who watched with eyes peeled, from front row seats. Her character shared a likeness to the interactive and engaged participants in a stage rendition of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Wally Lamb possessed the gift of exploring banalities and elevating seemingly mundane aspects of life to the most profound statement and analyses of our subconscious drives.

Naturally this book of his sent me looking for his other works, in search for his first novel – I Know This Much is True. I didn’t review these books at the time I read them which was several years ago, so please forgive me for glossing over many essential details. What I do recall, however, is that the book was about twin brothers. One of the twins became a schizophrenic spending time in and out of institutions. His life was a complete mess. His delusions even led him to interpreting the bible quite literally and severing his right hand after being deeply affected by the line – And if thy right hand offends thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.

Lamb’s consummate storytelling and his observations about despairing, ruined lives was evident once again in the depiction of the mentally ill twin, the shattered pieces of whose psyche, are viewed juxtaposed against the jagged pieces of the normal twin’s equally hellish life; the burdens he bears, the responsibilities he owns and the pain that is as much his as his brothers. Lamb depicts well the warped fusion of the two psyches together.

What stood out for me, in this book, was the normal twin’s coming to terms with his need for counseling and rehabilitation, a need that was equal, if not exceeding, his brother’s. I remember many fascinating pages devoted to the course of treatment his extremely competent psychiatrist prescribed.

The psychiatrist was an Indian lady with a statue of Shiva in her office. And I remember this part, even after seven or eight long years, because of the message the author conveys through her character. The doctor thinks of herself as a “shrink” in the truest sense of the word. Shiva is the God of Destruction and she sees herself as his instrument where she slowly but surely sets about dismantling all his defenses. It is said that schizophrenics are divorced from reality. Yet those of us who are medically sane are even more adept at precipitating this divorce by erecting fortified walls of duty, history, religion, social position; all mere illusions. The doctor successfully dismantles these walls within which the patient, the ‘normal’ twin, has progressively trapped himself, leaving himself no way out. She allows him to return to first principles, so to speak, and then to rebuild his life. She enables him to see himself as separate and distinct, clearly resolved and more objective about his perceived role as his brother’s keeper.

Both Lamb’s books found strong resonance with me. Both are essentially about starting over, about clean slates, about getting back to the very beginning and rebuilding, the right way this time, untainted by other influences and relying on the ‘nature’ rather than the ‘nurture’ aspects of our selves.

He hasn’t written a book since, at least not one I am aware of but I am certain I’ll pick it up when I see it, I like to see lives coming together.

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