I Know This Much Is True

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Overview

On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother, Thomas, entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut, public library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. . . .

One of the most acclaimed novels of our time, Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True is a story of alienation and connection, devastation and renewal, at once joyous, heartbreaking, poignant, ...

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Overview

On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother, Thomas, entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut, public library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. . . .

One of the most acclaimed novels of our time, Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True is a story of alienation and connection, devastation and renewal, at once joyous, heartbreaking, poignant, mystical, and powerfully, profoundly human.

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Editorial Reviews

Denver Post
A can't-put-it-down novel.
Joyce Hackett

Within Wally Lamb's second book, I Know This Much Is True, there's a fine novel shouting to get out. Narrated by an identical twin, the book recounts Dominick Birdsey's hard journey to come to terms with the paranoid schizophrenia of his brother Thomas, and his own helplessness in the face of it. Through the twins' aggressive attempts to wrench themselves into polar opposites, Lamb movingly explores their fears of becoming each other, and of being unable to live without each other. But Dominick's sorrow at the loss of a brother he can't control or save drowns in a wash of resentment and melodrama. It's a novel of too little style and too much substance.

Lamb's strong first novel, She's Come Undone, depicted with comedic force the anger of an overweight woman who also survives myriad slings and arrows to find forgiveness and grace. Dolores Price's voice remained sympathetic because her repulsion toward her world was coupled with strong desire. But Dominick is steeped in resentment, and spews from above. His voice doesn't sparkle, not even with the kind of Beavis-and-Butt-head stupidity that would ironically connect him to the objects of his critique. As a result, there's little sense of scale. The SIDS death of his daughter, his divorce and subsequent breakdown, the violent guards in his brother's mental institution, his 23-year-old aerobics teacher girlfriend's affair with her bisexual stepuncle -- all seem to get the same withering treatment as his girlfriend's refusal to reclose the saltines wrapper.

Like many first-person novels, I Know This Much Is True suffers from the flaws of its narrator, who curates his own museum of misery. Eventually Dominick crashes his car, falls from a 30-foot ladder, gets into therapy and realizes the limits of his power. But by the time his therapist/anthropologist diagnoses Dominick as a typical Repressed-and-Angry American Male, and points out how he's numbing himself with his incessant cataloging of insults and injuries, Lamb has battered the reader with a plot out of Soap Opera Digest. That Thomas saws off his own hand to protest the Gulf War is only the beginning: besides countless episodes of their stepfather's gruesome abuses, Dominick recounts date-raping his future wife and participating in the racist frame-up of a co-worker who turns out to have been exploited for years by a homosexual child pornographer.

The medley of issues surveyed in I Know This Much Is True includes an AIDS death, incest, suicide, amputation, Native American casino rights and mental illness policies; we even slog through transcripts of Thomas' paranoiac conspiracy theories. And Dominick's paternity search gives Lamb the occasion to saddle us -- incest again looming -- with the lengthy memoirs of his Sicilian grandfather, whose frigid wife and her evil-witch companion turn out to have been adolescent murderers.

Perhaps sweeping male anger is less fresh than its female equivalent. Or perhaps this 912-page tome simply needed an editor bold enough to persuade a talented novelist whose first book sold 3 million copies thanks in large part to Oprah Winfrey's benediction to trim the fat from the meat of its melodrama. I Know This Much Is True takes on too much to allow Dominick's losses the terrible specificity of universal tragedy. Nor does Lamb's vision ever expand into the kind of wider Swiftian satire that would have enabled him to take the entire world to task.
Salon

Karen Karbo
I Know This Much is True never grapples with anything less than life's biggest questions....a modern-day Dostoyevsky with a pop sensibility. In his view, it's not just the present that's the pits...it's also the ghosts of dysfunctional family members and your non-relationship with a mocking, sadistic God, whom you still turn to in times of trouble -- which is all the time.
The New York Times Book Review
Entertainment Weekly
Beguiling family drama...
Hartford Advocate
Contemporary fiction just doesn't get much better than this. . .It's the kind of book that makes you stop reading and shake your head, shocked by the insights you've encountered. In short, you'll be undone.
The Tennessean
Wally Lamb can lie down with the literary lions at will: he's that gifted. . .This novel does what good fiction should do -- it informs our hearts as well as our minds of the complexities involved in the 'simple' act of living a human life.
USA Today
Impossible to forget.
Associated Press
Every now and then a book comes along that sets new standards for writers and readers alike. Wally Lamb's latest novel is stunning -- and even that might be an understatement....This is a masterpiece.
Time Magazine
A triumph of simple beauty.
Oakland Press
The saga of the century. Best, most wonderful, most dramatic, most powerful. There are no superlatives impressive enough to describe this, another Lamb masterpiece.
People Magazine
Remarkable.
Kirkus Reviews
Both a moving character study and a gripping story of family conflict are hidden somewhere inside the daunting bulk of this annoyingly slick second novel by Lamb. The character (and narrator) is Dominick Birdsey, a 40-year-old housepainter whose subdued life in his hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, is disturbed in 1990 when his identical twin brother Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic whose condition is complicated by religious mania, commits a shocking act of self-mutilation. The story is that of the embattled Birdseys, as recalled in Dominick's elaborate memory-flashbacks and in the 'autobiography' (juxtaposed against the primary narrative) of the twins' maternal grandfather, Italian immigrant (and tyrannical patriarch) Domenico Tempesta. But Lamb combines these promising materials with overattenuated accounts of Dominick's crippled past (the torments inflicted on him and Thomas by an abusive stepfather, a luckless marriage, the crib death of his infant daughter), and with a heavy emphasis on the long-concealed identity of the twins' real father—a mystery eventually solved, not, as Dominick and we expect, in Domenico's self-aggrandizing story, but by a most surprising confession. This novel is derivative (of both Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides and the film Dominick and Eugene), it pushes all the appropriate topical buttons (child abuse, AIDS, New Age psychobabble, Native American dignity, and others), and it works a little too hard at wringing tears. But it's by no means negligible. Lamb writes crisp, tender-tough dialogue, and his portrayal of the decent, conflicted Dominick (who is forced, and blessed, to acknowledge that 'We were all, in a way, each other')is convincing. The pathetic, destroyed figure of Thomas is, by virtue of its very opacity, both haunting and troubling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061469084
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/8/2008
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 61,963
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and national bestseller The Hour I First Believed and Wishin' and Hopin', a bestselling novella. His first two works of fiction, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both number-one New York Times bestsellers and Oprah's Book Club selections. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.

Biography

The desire to write fiction hit Wally Lamb comparatively late in life. He was in his 30s, living in Connecticut, working as a high school English teacher, and relishing his role as a brand new father, when he began his first story. As he worked his way through several drafts, he was suddenly struck by how little he knew of the writer's craft. Determined to improve his skills, he enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Vermont College.

Lamb blossomed at Vermont, where he learned two important and liberating lessons from his teacher and mentor Gladys Swann: (1.) Never write with a particular audience in mind; write for yourself, and let the audience find you. (2.) There's no such thing as an original story; the writer's job is to recast a familiar tale in his or her own way. Acting on Swann's advice, he immersed himself in mythology and reread the works of Joseph Campbell and Heinrich Zimmer.

In 1992, eight years after completing graduate school, Lamb published his first novel. The story of a tremendously overweight woman who triumphs over a lifetime of misery, pain, and abuse, She's Come Undone became a surprise bestseller, and several publications, including The New York Times, placed it on their year-end "best of" lists. Then, in 1997, kingmaker Oprah Winfrey selected it for her prestigious Book Club, catapulting Lamb into the literary limelight.

By the time he received Oprah's endorsement, Lamb was nearly finished with his second novel. Published in 1998, I Know This Much Is True garnered rave reviews for its sensitive portrayal of twin brothers, one of whom suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. To Lamb's surprise, Oprah beckoned a second time, praising his sophomore effort with these admiring words: "It's not just a book, it's a life experience."

Lamb is tremendously grateful for the boost the Oprah experience has given his career. "It opened me up to so many more millions of readers I might not have had," he told USA Today, "but it's also a double-edged sword." At best a painstakingly slow writer, he found himself crippled by writer's block, choking on the pressure to produce a worthy third novel. "I had all those Oprah readers with their expectations in my writing room. I had to open my office door and shoo everybody's expectations out of there." The process took nearly a decade, but finally, in 2008, Lamb published The Hour I First Believed, an ambitious epic that touches on a rich ragout of sociopolitical themes, including the Columbine killings, Hurricane Katrina, and the Iraq War.

In addition to his own work, Lamb has edited two bestselling anthologies of writing authored by inmates at York Correctional Institute, the maximum security women's prison in Niantic, Connecticut, where he began teaching in 1999. Lamb speaks lovingly of his students, some of whom have evolved into wonderful writers. The first anthology, Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters, was published in 2003 to great critical acclaim and earned for one of the inmates the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award. It also became the center of legal controversy. Following publication, the State of Connecticut attempted to sue the women authors -- not for the modest earnings the book would net them after they left prison, but for the entire cost of their incarceration: $117 a day! The suit was settled, thanks to the intervention of sympathetic officials, legislators, and journalists. In 2007, Lamb published I'll Fly Away, a second anthology of the York inmates' writing.

Good To Know

Raised in a blue-collar corner of Connecticut, Lamb grew up in the looming shadow of Norwich State Hospital, a sprawling facility for the mentally ill. Now closed, the institution played a part in Lamb's family history. As an adult, Lamb learned that the grandfather he had never known had been locked up in the hospital for a violent attack on his wife. He later discovered that his grandfather had died of brain cancer and wondered if illness had provoked the violence. Unsurprisingly, the themes of incarceration and mental illness play important roles in his stories.

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    1. Hometown:
      Willimantic, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 17, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Norwich, Connecticut
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Education, University of Connecticut, 1972; M.A. in Education, 1977; M.F.A. in Writing, Vermont College, 1984

Read an Excerpt


On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. Mrs. Theresa Fenneck, the children's librarian, was officially in charge that day because the head librarian was at an all-day meeting in Hartford. She approached my brother and told him he'd have to keep his voice down or else leave the library. She could hear him all the way up at the front desk. There were other patrons to consider. If he wanted to pray, she told him, he should go to a church, not the library.
Thomas and I had spent several hours together the day before. Our Sunday afternoon ritual dictated that I sign him out of the state hospital's Settle Building, treat him to lunch, visit our stepfather or take him for a drive, and then return him to the hospital before suppertime. At a back booth at Friendly's, I'd sat across from my brother, breathing in his secondary smoke and leafing for the umpteenth time through his scrapbook of clippings on the Persian Gulf crisis. He'd been collecting them since August as evidence that Armageddon was at hand—that the final battle between good and evil was about to be triggered. "America's been living on borrowed time all these years, Dominick," he told me. "Playing the world's whore, wallowing in our greed. Now we're going to pay the price."
He was oblivious of my drumming fingers on the tabletop. "Not to change the subject," I said, "but how's the coffee business?" Ever since eight milligrams of Haldol per day had quieted Thomas's voices, he hadmanaged a small morning concession in the patients' lounge—coffee and cigarettes and newspapers dispensed from a metal cart more rickety than his emotional state. Like so many of the patients there, he indulged in caffeine and nicotine, but it was the newspapers that had become Thomas's most potent addiction.
"How can we kill people for the sake of cheap oil? How can we justify that?" His hands flapped as he talked; his palms were grimy from newsprint ink. Those dirty hands should have warned me—should have tipped me off. "How are we going to prevent God's vengeance if we have that little respect for human life?"
Our waitress approached—a high school kid wearing two buttons: "Hi, I'm Kristin" and "Patience, please. I'm a trainee." She asked us if we wanted to start out with some cheese sticks or a bowl of soup.
"You can't worship both God and money, Kristin," Thomas told her. "America's going to vomit up its own blood."

About a month later—after President Bush had declared that "a line has been drawn in the sand" and conflict might be inevitable—Mrs. Fenneck showed up at my front door. She had sought me out—had researched where I lived via the city directory, then ridden out of the blue to Joy's and my condo and rung the bell. She pointed to her husband, parked at the curb and waiting for her in their blue Dodge Shadow. She identified herself as the librarian who'd called 911.
"Your brother was always neat and clean," she told me. "You can't say that about all of them. But you have to be firm with these people. All day long, day in, day out, the state hospital van just drops them downtown and leaves them. They have nowhere to go, nothing to do. The stores don't want them—business is bad enough, for pity's sake. So they come to the library and sit." Her pale green eyes jerked repeatedly away from my face as she spoke. Thomas and I are identical twins, not fraternal—one fertilized egg that split in half and went off in two directions. Mrs. Fenneck couldn't look at me because she was looking at Thomas.
It was cold, I remember, and I invited her into the foyer, no further. For two weeks I'd been channel-flipping through the Desert Shield updates, swallowing back the anger and guilt my brother's act had left me with, and hanging up in the ears of reporters and TV types—all those bloodsuckers trying to book and bag next week's freak show. I didn't offer to take Mrs. Fenneck's coat. I stood there, arms crossed, fists tucked into my armpits. Whatever this was, I needed it to be over.
She said she wanted me to understand what librarians put up with these days. Once upon a time it had been a pleasant job—she liked people, after all. But now libraries were at the mercy of every derelict and homeless person in the area. People who cared nothing about books or information. People who only wanted to sit and vegetate or run to the toilet every five minutes. And now with AIDS and drugs and such. The other day they'd found a dirty syringe jammed behind the paper towel dispenser in the men's restroom. In her opinion, the whole country was like a chest of drawers that had been pulled out and dumped onto the floor.
I'd answered the door barefoot. My feet were cold. "What do you want?" I asked her. "Why did you come here?"
She'd come, she said, because she hadn't had any appetite or a decent night's sleep since my brother did it. Not that she was responsible, she pointed out. Clearly, Thomas had planned the whole thing in advance and would have done it whether she'd said anything to him or not. A dozen people or more had told her they'd seen him walking around town, muttering about the war with that one fist of his up in the air, as if it was stuck in that position. She'd noticed it herself, it always looked so curious. "He'd come inside and sit all afternoon in the periodical section, arguing with the newspapers," she said. "Then, after a while, he'd quiet down. Just stare out the window and sigh, with his arm bent at the elbow, his hand making that fist. But who'd have taken it for a sign? Who in their right mind would have put two and two together and guessed he was planning to do that?"
No one, I said. None of us had.
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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

I Know This Much Is True
A Novel Chapter One

On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. Mrs. Theresa Fenneck, the children's librarian, was officially in charge that day because the head librarian was at an all-day meeting in Hartford. She approached my brother and told him he'd have to keep his voice down or else leave the library. She could hear him all the way up at the front desk. There were other patrons to consider. If he wanted to pray, she told him, he should go to a church, not the library.

Thomas and I had spent several hours together the day before. Our Sunday afternoon ritual dictated that I sign him out of the state hospital's Settle Building, treat him to lunch, visit our stepfather or take him for a drive, and then return him to the hospital before suppertime. At a back booth at Friendly's, I'd sat across from my brother, breathing in his secondary smoke and leafing for the umpteenth time through his scrapbook of clippings on the Persian Gulf crisis. He'd been collecting them since August as evidence that Armageddon was at hand--that the final battle between good and evil was about to be triggered. "America's been living on borrowed time all these years, Dominick," he told me. "Playing the world's whore, wallowing in our greed. Now we're going to pay the price."

He was oblivious of my drumming fingers on the tabletop. "Not to change the subject," I said, "but how's the coffee business?" Ever since eight milligrams of Haldol per day had quietedThomas's voices, he had managed a small morning concession in the patients' lounge--coffee and cigarettes and newspapers dispensed from a metal cart more rickety than his emotional state. Like so many of the patients there, he indulged in caffeine and nicotine, but it was the newspapers that had become Thomas's most potent addiction.

"How can we kill people for the sake of cheap oil? How can we justify that?" His hands flapped as he talked; his palms were grimy from newsprint ink. Those dirty hands should have warned me--should have tipped me off. "How are we going to prevent God's vengeance if we have that little respect for human life?"

Our waitress approached--a high school kid wearing two buttons: "Hi, I'm Kristin" and "Patience, please. I'm a trainee." She asked us if we wanted to start out with some cheese sticks or a bowl of soup.

"You can't worship both God and money, Kristin," Thomas told her. "America's going to vomit up its own blood."

About a month later—after President Bush had declared that "a line has been drawn in the sand" and conflict might be inevitable—Mrs. Fenneck showed up at my front door. She had sought me out—had researched where I lived via the city directory, then ridden out of the blue to Joy's and my condo and rung the bell. She pointed to her husband, parked at the curb and waiting for her in their blue Dodge Shadow. She identified herself as the librarian who'd called 911.

"Your brother was always neat and clean," she told me. "You can't say that about all of them. But you have to be firm with these people. All day long, day in, day out, the state hospital van just drops them downtown and leaves them. They have nowhere to go, nothing to do. The stores don't want them—business is bad enough, for pity's sake. So they come to the library and sit." Her pale green eyes jerked repeatedly away from my face as she spoke. Thomas and I are identical twins, not fraternal--one fertilized egg that split in half and went off in two directions. Mrs. Fenneck couldn't look at me because she was looking at Thomas.

It was cold, I remember, and I invited her into the foyer, no further. For two weeks I'd been channel-flipping through the Desert Shield updates, swallowing back the anger and guilt my brother's act had left me with, and hanging up in the ears of reporters and TV types—all those bloodsuckers trying to book and bag next week's freak show. I didn't offer to take Mrs. Fenneck's coat. I stood there, arms crossed, fists tucked into my armpits. Whatever this was, I needed it to be over.

She said she wanted me to understand what librarians put up with these days. Once upon a time it had been a pleasant job--she liked people, after all. But now libraries were at the mercy of every derelict and homeless person in the area. People who cared nothing about books or information. People who only wanted to sit and vegetate or run to the toilet every five minutes. And now with AIDS and drugs and such. The other day they'd found a dirty syringe jammed behind the paper towel dispenser in the men's restroom. In her opinion, the whole country was like a chest of drawers that had been pulled out and dumped onto the floor.

I'd answered the door barefoot. My feet were cold. "What do you want?" I asked her. "Why did you come here?"

She'd come, she said, because she hadn't had any appetite or a decent night's sleep since my brother did it. Not that she was responsible, she pointed out. Clearly, Thomas had planned the whole thing in advance and would have done it whether she'd said anything to him or not. A dozen people or more had told her they'd seen him walking around town, muttering about the war with that one fist of his up in the air, as if it was stuck in that position. She'd noticed it herself, it always looked so curious. "He'd come inside and sit all afternoon in the periodical section, arguing with the newspapers," she said. "Then, after a while, he'd quiet down. Just stare out the window and sigh, with his arm bent at the elbow, his hand making that fist. But who'd have taken it for a sign? Who in their right mind would have put two and two together and guessed he was planning to do that?"

No one, I said. None of us had.

I Know This Much Is True
A Novel
. Copyright © by Wally Lamb. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Wally Lamb

Q: Anyone who reads She's Come Undone comments that it's amazing that a man could write so seamlessly about what goes on in a woman's head and heart. Now you write about identical twin brothers in an equally convincing way. How do you know so much about human nature?

A: When I was a kid, I was surrounded by girls: older sisters, older girl cousins just down the street -- an entire "girl gang" neighborhood, except for an older boy named Vito who threw rocks. Each year I would wish for a baby brother. It never happened. So fairly early on, I became an observer of people more than a group participant. And I drew. My Uncle Dom was a printer and kept me well-supplied with scrap paper of all shapes, sizes, and colors from the shop where he worked. I probably spent half of my childhood with pencils and Crayolas in my hand. What I liked to draw, mostly, was people in conflict: A lion would escape his cage at the circus and panic would ensue; a tidal wave would roll ominously toward an unsuspecting crowd at the beach. Human behavior in the midst of hardship caught my attention very early on, and my first stories were all pictures, no words.

However far fiction writers stray from their own lives and experiences -- and I stray pretty far from mine -- I think, ultimately, that we may be writing what we need to write in some way, albeit unconsciously. When I was a kid, like Dolores Price in She's Come Undone, I needed to belong. And perhaps I Know This Much Is True addresses my desire for a brother. But as my early drawings warned me, where humans go, lions and tidal waves follow.

Q: Is this book also a love story? How?

A: As far as I can figure, this book, reduced to its lowest common denominator, is only a love story. Love stories are probably all I've ever been able to write or want to write. To me, it's the most breathtakingly ironic things about living: the fact that we are all -- identical twins included -- alone. Singular. And yet what we seek -- what saves us -- is our connection to others. Love comes in far more shapes and sizes than what the family-values crowd condones, of course. In the story, Pasquale Tempesta loves his monkeys, and the monkeys seem to love him back. Pasquale's brother Domenico is doomed not by a monsignor's curse, but because he cannot love.

Q: What is the greatest lesson we can learn from I Know This Much Is True?

A: Reading a novel is a highly personal experience, and I think different readers will take different things from it. As for me, the experience of writing the book has reinforced for me the truths that Dominick had to learn: that love grows from forgiveness, that "mongrels" make good dogs, and that the roundness of life's design may be a sign that there is a presence beyond ourselves.

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Reading Group Guide


A Note From the Author
"Reading a novel is a highly personal experience and I think different readers will take different things from it. As for me, the experience of writing the book has reinforced for me the truths that Dominick had to learn: that love grows from forgiveness, that "mongrels" make good dogs, and that the roundness of life's design may be a sign that there is a presence beyond ourselves."

Topics for Discussion
As an award-winning teacher of writing, Wally Lamb has been honored for his exceptional ability to communicate the power and majesty of the written word to his students. Hoping to inspire thoughtful discourse on his own novel, Wally has graciously supplied these discussion questions.

  • Wally Lamb has said that what interested him most about his character, Dominick Birdsey, was the protagonist's conflictedness. Discuss some of the ways in which, as both child and adult, Dominick is pulled in opposing directions and wrestles with conflicting emotions.
  • How does this novel reflect the attitudes toward and the treatment of the mentally ill as they have evolved through the 20th century?</<P>
  • Do you see Dominick Birdsey as a hero or an anti-hero? Why?
  • The author has commented that his discovery of an ancient Hindu myth, "The King and the Corpse," allowed him to discover, in turn, Dominick's story. In this ancient tale, a cadaver whispers riddles into the ears of a naive king and the solving of these puzzles allows the king to save himself. In what ways does the plot of I Know This Much Is True follow a similar path
  • Wally Lamb has said, "Whereas Dolores Price, themain character of my first novel, She's Come Undone, deals with her pain and fear by imploding, Dominck tends to wrestle with pain and fear by exploding." Do females and males tend to respond differently to emotional pain? If so, why
  • The principal female characters of this novel are Concettina Birdsey, Dessa Constantine, Lisa Sheffer, Dr. Rubina Patel, Ignazia Tempesta, and Prosperine Tucci (the monkey). Discuss I Know This Much Is True's depiction of women.
  • Wally Lamb has stated that a worthwhile novel should not only draw you into the story but also kick you in the pants so that you'll be more inclined to go out and fix the world. Do you agree or disagree?
  • I Know This Much Is True is in development as a major motion picture. If you were the casting director, which actors would you choose for the major roles?
  • Discuss the themes of mirror vs. images, wholeness vs. fragmentation, connection vs. separation as they are explored in I Know This Much Is True.
  • To what extent is Dominick Birdsey's life shaped by his ethnicity? To what extent do you feel your life is defined by the place and the culture of your forebearers? Discuss. About the Author: Wally Lamb's first novel She's Come Undone received rave reviews when it was published in 1992. The book was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards' Art Seidenbaum Prize for First Fiction and was named as one of the most notable books of the year by numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review and People magazine. A graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing program, Lamb currently teaches at the University of Connecticut. He is the recipient of an NEA grant for fiction and a Missouri Review William Peden fiction prize winner. A nationally honored teacher of writing, he lives in Connecticut with his wife and their three sons.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 691 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2008

    A True Page Turner

    This novel touched me in so many ways. From the length of the novel (897 pages), I thought that it was going to be a dragged-out novel that was very slow paced and boring however, my assumptions were proven wrong. From the very first chapter of this extraordinary novel I was HOOKED! The rate at which shocking events happen is uncanning and sudden. Wally Lamb relates his characters to the audience both mentally and physically, while pertaining to the ethos and pathos of the readers. You grow with the main character (Dominick) as he expresses his past, his fears, his doubts and feel every emotion that he is feeling. This novel is overflowing with conflict, drama, uncertainty and resolutions that cause it to be a true tear-jerker. Being a twin myself I noticed that the talented Wally Lamb got every detail about twins down correctly: the differences, the similarities, the hate, the love, and the jealousy. Each time an new event occurred in the novel, it caused me to think of my brother (my other half) due to the gifted writing style of Mr. Lamb. I, without a doubt, would recommend this novel! It causes people to think about their past, their present and their future. Furthermore, it gives people insight to the steps one needs to take in life on multiple levels: for forgiveness for love for redemption and, of course, for peace.

    60 out of 65 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

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    Wally Lamb is now a favorite author of mine

    A year ago my teenage nieces recommended this book to me. I typically do not like reading fictional accounts of mental illnesses, as I am a Mental Health Professional and typically people mistake mental disorders for others or portray them in a bad way. Wally Lamb did not do this with I Know This Much is True. Although the book is large, I could not put the book down and finished it in two weeks. I found that he accurately portrayed schizophrenia and how schizophrenia affects loved ones. However, that is not what the main story is in I Know This Much is True. The book captivated me until the very end. I find myself frequently discussing this book among my friends and recommending it to others as well. I have also read other works by Wally Lamb and I have enjoyed them all, I do believe that I Know This Much is True is one of my favorites. I had borrowed this book from my nieces and after reading I had to buy it and add it to my permanent collection. I recommend this book to all types of people.

    33 out of 33 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

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    I can't say enough

    The book is almost 1000 pages (in the trade paper format, anyway), yet I've read it about six times. I picked it up one day out of curiosity and couldn't put it down until I had finished every last word. That was when I was about 14, and now that I'm older, it's still one of the most well-written, poignant, haunting books that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Whether you're young or old, man or woman, you will certainly enjoy this book.

    22 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    ENTRANCING!

    Wally Lamb takes the reader on another fascinating journey into the heart and soul of three generations of dysfunction. Lamb weaves an intricate plot surrounding Dominick Birdsey and his paranoid schizophrenic identical twin Thomas, the boys of a meek and secretive mother. When Thomas ends up in a maximum security hospital, Dominick begins his quest to save his brother by reflecting on his past and his family's. Lamb successfully uses the "story within a story" to reveal the past. Lamb breaks the readers' hearts with his all too real account of mental illness and the painful patterns of family dysfunction and tragedy. His characters develop and invite us into their world and their minds. The reader can't help but be connected to these characters. Incredible!

    21 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Truly magnificent, and insightful!

    Three cheers for Wally Lamb. I recently finished reading "my favorite book of all time" for the second time. I first read it about ten years ago when it first was published. I'd very much enjoyed his first novel, and happened to finish it just as IKTMIT was released. I was a younger person then and not as wisdom filled (though this book gave me a great deal more). It's impact at the time was very strong, and I've happily promoted the novel to folks around me as the previously stated above. The second time around this book had an even greater impact on me. I think this time it just astonished me as to how well put together this story is. The characters are fully realized, and the journey of Dominick is truly of epic proportions. I'm not sure though unless you've had a brush with the books sujbect matter, in some fashion, that one could truly appreciate what Lamb has in fact done here. I don't know how he constructed this novel so beautifully after having read that he just begins and never knows what the end is. There is too much meticulously strung together timelines, and plot points. Only a brilliant mind could have done this. My hat is off to Wally Lamb for what I truly believe is a masterful work of contemporary literature. A great American Novel that packs a wallup on your mind and your soul. Savor every moment. This is the only book I have ever read twice. How much more of an endorsement could one give.

    16 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

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    Too Many Unnecessary Disturbing Plot Lines

    Because this book is so widely popular, it feels odd writing a review that isn't overwhelmingly positive. Is it engaging, unique, and unpredictable? Absolutley. Realistic, inspiring/thought-provoking, and addicting? No quite. The plot lines are unbelievable, and a LOT of them are very disturbing and unnecessary. Rape, murder, perversion, beastiality, broken families, abondonment, depression, suicide, and diseases (both chronic and sexually transmitted). This book would have been great if even just half of those were eliminated. I'm tired of reading stories that indulge the horrific things in life, and squeeze in as many scenarios as possible. This is the third book by Wally Lamb that I've read, and the last.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Don't hesitate, it's a great read!

    This was the first Wally Lamb book I ever read. I read it over the summer on loan from my Aunt and was completely taken with the story and characters. The story was engrossing, I couldnt get enough and didnt put the book down till it was done. The writing wasnt too juvenile, a common complaint I make these days, it was very rich and satisfying. I came home and imediatly ordered it from B&N so that I could have a copy for my library.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2010

    Gave me a read I will never forget.

    Being relatively young, I haven't had time to read too many life-changing books. I've dropped some mediocre ones, struggled through some good ones that I just wasn't mature enough to get into, and I've been swept off my feet only a few times. I Know This Much Is True is one of the only books so far that has touched me on a very deep level emotionally: The narrator's suffering is described so perfectly that even with my limited life experience, I could relate strongly. It's daunting in terms of length, but I powered through it half a week, mainly due to the sheer mental impact of the book--I was impossible to distract while reading it and thought about it whenever I wasn't. It'll make you think as hard as it makes you want to cry.

    (My only real qualm with this book is the sex. It definitely isn't gratuitous, but it is frequent and awfully graphic.)

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Incredible book!

    I was a little afraid to read this one, knowing what it was about, so much dysfunction! But the multitude of wonderful reviews always entices me and pulls me in. The twists and turns left me speechless and it was impossible to put down. The complicated relationships in this book and how the characters related to each another were so convincingly done. The parallels from the past to the present were amazing. The emotional roller coaster was moving, challenging and intriguing and full of raw vulnerability. The 900 pages had me experiencing every range of human emotion. Lamb captured the essence of human nature. There is great use of imagery throughout, amazing perception, introspection, great depth of character and great writing that make up the most memorable reads. Parts of this book were so disturbing that I wanted to quit reading, only to find myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading so I was quickly drawn back in. This is a gripping, touching story, full of rage and redemption, courage and relief and is an incredible book that is well worth the long read!

    Others I've recommended to my book club are ROSES, EXPLOSION IN PARIS, PERFECT and WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2009

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    Very pleasurable reading...

    Wow, I'm glad I finally discovered Wally Lamb!

    "I Know This Much Is True" is a great book. At a mammoth 897 pages, reading the book itself is a journey, as is the story of twins, Dominick & Thomas Birdsey.

    Very rewarding throughout, it puts you right there in the characters lives. Wally Lamb masterfully draws you in with each character and real life drama that is never sugar coated. Anyone can relate to someone in this book in your real life.

    In my opinion, any book that can make you feel, really truly feel for the characters, is a masterpiece. Lamb's characters will have you on their side one minute and then you will be against them the next.

    As another reviewer stated, this is one of those books that becomes part of your life for a while. For me that is absolutely true, I looked forwarding to reading it every night for the two weeks it took me to finish.

    A very, very well crafted plot and alot of surprises and unexpected outcomes in the end. As your reading this book, you'll naturally make alot of assumptions and have your own idea of whats going to happen next or at the end and Wally Lamb will leave you dumbfounded every time.

    A wonderful book, I know this much is true!

    After finishing "I Know This Much Is True", I'm looking forward to reading Wally's other novels, "She's Come Undone" & "The Hour I First Believed

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A PIECE OF WORK!

    An emotional roller coaster. Wally Lamb takes us on another incredible journey into the heart and soul of three generations of dysfunction. Lamb weaves an intricate plot surrounding Dominick Birdsey and his paranoid schizophrenic identical twin Thomas. A piece of work!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    A Worthy and Substantial Read

    This is the kind of book where, once you get to the end, you feel like you've just been through a grueling life journey, and are now a wiser person. I was very moved by the relationship between Dominique and Tom, his mentally ill twin brother. The usual complexity of love and conflict in close relationships is layered with additional challenges in this relationship, where responsibility, guilt, protectiveness, anger, and identity confusion are all magnified by mental illness and by being a twin. This book is quite an undertaking, both because of its sheer size, as well as the emotional intensity. There is a section or two in the book that drags, but it's so worth the effort. Some books are like fast-food--quick reads that you don't expect to add much to your life; this book is more like a substantial meal--in reading it, you're so much more likely to change, to think through your own sense of what it means to be family, the impact of the past, and the limits of being able to save loved ones from their own selves.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A great author

    EXCELLENT BOOK, I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!!! Wally Lamb is a fantastic author

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2009

    WALLY LAMB...YOU MOVE ME TO TEARS

    Wally Lamb will ALWAYS be my number 1 author of all time. The way he wrote this book...is undescripable. It's so well written, and it's a page-turner. My mother literally is CHASING me around the house to put the book down, so I could focus on chores and finish homework at a resonable hour. Dominick, I fell in love with him- he is so funny, smart, and...a growing character. He really rubs off on you, and I just LOVED Thomas. As a matter of fact, I was actually crying when I found out he died, because, that...was the climax of the story, Thomas's death. You know though? There is something I would like to point out to other reveiwers of this book. You have think the last 250 pages are slow, but that is only because Thomas died, and it's Dominick's life is beginning to get back on track. This is my favorite book of all time, and I was so much in love with it, I had 'She's come Undone' right next to me, and I DIDN'T even bother to read it- I didn't want to- This book just moved me to absolute tears, and I was so SAD when this book ended. SAD- not DISAPPOINTED. And I LOVE how Wally Lamb ended book when he says "...That God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I've figured out. I know this much is true." Beautiful Wally Lamb. Oh, and I STRONGLY suggest getting the audio tapes to listen to (24 cassettes) with information that is not in the book. You will LOVE IT!

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2008

    Long..but great

    I have to admit when i picked up this book, I was a little intimidated. But from the very first page i was hooked. I do have to say that the ending started to get a little slow the last 200 pages or so but not enough to make me stop reading. Recommended definitely.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing Book

    I read Wally Lamb's book "She's Come Undone" and waited with breathless anticipation for his next book and was not disappointed by "I Know This Much is True". I keep few books for my permanent library and this one is definitely one I will keep. The story is a touching, poignant observation of sibling love and compassion as it relates to the relationship of identical twin brothers. One "normal" and one suffering from a severe mental illness. It asks and challenges the question "am I my brother's keeper" and at what point must you draw a line for self preservation. Wally Lamb has an intuitive and insightful grasp of his characters and a way of writing that wraps you in his world....and leaves you hoping for them at the end.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2010

    Hearing Voices

    Imagine being an identical twin to a man that is considered crazy and everywhere you go people think you are him. Dominick Birdsey has to deal with this problem. In I Know This Much Is True By: Wally Lamb, a brother struggles to separate himself from his schizophrenic brother that claims to hear voices of people that are trying to kill him. From childhood to adult lives you follow the twins through all the crazy events that take place in Three Rivers, Connecticut. I Know This Much Is True is a great book because of the way it is written, it's insight into what people with schizophrenia go though, and it's exciting events.
    First, this is a great book because of the way it is written. The chapters going from being the present events to past events makes you want to keep reading the book because you want to know more about both. By telling it in order he would have lost some of the suspense. It also was also good because you got some of the background as you went along. If he would have put it all in the beginning it would have been really boring and you probably wouldn't want to read it all to get to the main event.
    Second, this book shows what people with the disorder go though because it talks about the voices he hears and how scared it makes him. He thinks he hears the voice of god and people that want to kill him because he can hear god. Thomas can't even go to a restaurant without thinking the Soviets or the CIA is after him. It also shows how powerful the disease is because he cuts off his own hand because he thinks god is talking to him. It is frustrating for Dominick because he can't help him no matter how hard he tries. Because of the things the disease causes him to do and some of the other events in the book I would not suggest this book for kids.
    Third, this book is great because of the exciting events. From getting caught with drugs when he was a teenager to dealing with Thomas cutting of his hand this book tells of many crazy things that happen in Dominick's life. With everything there is to tell about Dominick's life and his brother's condition there is never a dull moment in this book. The very first thing it tells you about is his brother cutting off his hand and from there they just keep adding more things that make you wonder how a person can think that way.
    In conclusion, when you read I Know This Much Is True you won't want to put it down. You will wonder is people really think like that and think that it is really interesting. The way that it is written, the insight on how schizophrenia affects people, and the exciting events make this a great book. Learn what can drive a man to cut off his own hand and what it would be like to be his twin brother in this thrilling novel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2002

    Interesting, but not worth it

    The length is not what turned me off. It was the superfluous vulgarity and violence. Wally took everything bad about people and showcased it in this epic-length book. I know everyone else in the world loves it, judging from all the '5 stars' reviews, but I had an awful time reading it. I kept thinking it would get better, and it never did! I loved 'She's Come Undone,' but Wally did a 360 on this one.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2000

    BORING and SLOW

    As an avid book reader I found this book very slow moving, and boring. Didn't feel it lived up to the hype. Never finished it. Maybe I will give it a try at the shore. I got about 1/2 way through and moved on.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2013

    This book was a big disappointment!  More of a pity party, with

    This book was a big disappointment!  More of a pity party, with too many unnecessary characters, too much dwelling on the past which had little to do with Thomas, like teenage sex, drugs, Dominick's ex he can't forget, and other escapes.  this is a very long book in which the reader keeps thinking &quot; When are you going to get back to the real story of poor Thomas?  It could have been so much better... I finally had to keep skipping chapters to get to the meat of it!   Some authors just don't know  when to quit.  I would have edited this book by half!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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