Wally Lamb's novels She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True were both Oprah's Book Club selections and No. 1 New York Times bestsellers. On the surface, Couldn't Keep It to Myself is far different than these works of fiction. In this heart-wrenching collection, Lamb introduces and presents 11 female writers who happen to be convicted felons. Their pieces, as potent as their personalities, would be less accessible without Lamb's modest and disarming preludes. "Prison," he writes, "is not a place where trust is given easily." Obviously, he earned that trust, and we now share its fruits.
One truth this book affirms is the capacity for people to change. The writers of Couldn't Keep It to Myself chart their own journeys of growth, navigating the terrain of their internal worlds, their pasts and present prison realities. Who they have become is clear both in self-awareness and what they do with their lives — teaching others, advocacy, computer work, construction in prison and out. It is in this change that hope resides; lying next to and rising out of despair, hope permeates the book. Why, in the end, does Lamb want us to care about 10 women in prison? Perhaps because in noticing the humanity of others, we become more human ourselves. — Kathy Boudin
Bestselling author and Oprah Winfrey favorite Lamb (She's Come Undone; I Know This Much Is True) takes a cue from Winfrey herself in collecting and editing this book of writings gleaned from a workshop he conducted for the female inmates of Connecticut's York Correctional Institution. The result is an intriguing and powerful collection of unlikely literary debuts. Although the 11 selections cover the range one might expect from writings plucked from a women's prison-tales of broken homes, poverty, violence, teenage pregnancy, race and gender bias, and, of course, crime and punishment-Lamb succeeds in giving the collection an intense, recognizable emotional core reminiscent of his blockbuster debut novel, She's Come Undone. Indeed, each selection bears the marks of Lamb's heavy involvement-the clipped yet elegant prose and the delicate, occasionally humorous manner in which difficult emotional situations are rendered. Standout selections include Nancy Whiteley's opening remembrance of her troubled adolescence and Diane Bartholomew's artfully rendered, heart-wrenching "Snapshots of My Early Life." As a sad footnote, Bartholomew, whom Lamb credits with inspiring the success of the workshop, will never see her opus in print. Sent to prison in 1990 for murdering her abusive husband, Bartholomew was stricken with cancer while serving her sentence and died in November 2001. In his introduction, Lamb calls the workshop "a journey rich with laughter, tears, [and] heart-stopping leaps of faith." To the credit of Lamb and his authors, this book, the end product of the workshop, is as well. (On sale Feb. 1) Forecast: Although this book is a departure for Lamb, fans of She's Come Undone will undoubtedly enjoy it. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
At the urgent request of the librarian at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut, Lamb (She's Come Undone) organized a writing class for incarcerated women. The intention was to make writing a coping tool that might counter an epidemic of despair at the prison. The 12 pieces in this volume are the best of the students' efforts, and as efforts they are noteworthy, offering memoirs of childhood and acute observations about prison life. In "Three Steps Past the Monkeys," Nancy Birkla chronicles her dependence on drugs by describing her early dependence on candy. In "Christmas in Prison," Robin Cullen describes a congregation at a prison church service as "a rainbow of skin tones, their chocolate, honey vanilla, and raspberry ripple-colored hair topped with crocheted red scrunchies that sit like cherries atop ice cream parlor hairdos." All in all, the volume represents good student writing and a success from everyone's point of view. If it is vying for shelf space with professional writers, it will probably (and justifiably) lose out. But if funds permit, it is worth considering.-Frances Sandiford, formerly with Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Intense attestations of lives that ran afoul of the law, from women who have done or are doing time at a prison in Connecticut. Bestselling novelist Lamb (I Know This Much Is True, 1998, etc.) teaches a course in writing at the York Correctional Institution, and he offers here a selection of ten works from the women in his class, plus one by his co-instructor. The pieces are uniformly wrenching, reported from desperate circumstances by authors doomed to punishment. Yet they are as far from self-pity as possible, written by extremely self-aware authors who give a clear sense of setting out to take some degree of control of their destinies. Each piece is a probing re-examination of its author’s life and of the reasons she ended up in prison. Some recount childhoods taxing by any yardstick, years of learning to become "experts at detecting the slightest barometric fluctuations of Storm Mom," or of being raped by a father who’d just lost the house in a card game—and, at term, having the baby spirited away before its mother was allowed to touch him. There are demons aplenty, inner ones begging to be tamed by drugs, and outer ones, like husbands, uncontrollable (one woman asks, "Why do I feel safer here in prison than I felt at home?"). The maximum-security prison is a tough house, and prospects of release for some of the writers are dim: "Ineligible for parole, I have served the first nine years of my twenty-five year sentence. I am 27." This same person will also say, "I’m kept afloat by my writing." And her writing, like other of the women’s, is lean, with the momentum and clarity needed for its work of helping frame and make sense of these authors’ situations. There are things, says Lamb,that need "to be known about prison and prisoners. There are misconceptions to be abandoned, biases to be dropped." Here’s a step in that direction.