Friday, 10 July 2015

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel

What we thought: Forty-year old narrator Dominick Birdsey, former high-school history teacher and now house-painter, tells the story that led to his identical twin Thomas’s paranoia, and the resulting chaos that caused for both of them. As the “uncrazy” twin, Dominick feels a lifelong responsibility for his paranoid schizophrenic sibling, evoking the dilemma of a twin whose love for his afflicted brother simmers in a volatile mixture of resentment, guilt and bitterness.

Juxtaposed with Dominick’s present day life of his change of profession, his frustrating relationship with his partner, Joy, his everlasting love for his ex-wife, Dessa and the tragic reason behind their breakup, the twins’ difficult childhood is illustrated through flashbacks. The boys never knew their father, and Thomas was abused by their bullying stepfather, Ray, who also terrorized the twins’ mother. There is also the further-back story, of the twins’ grandfather, which too, has dramatic consequences on their lives.

All this history unravels against Dominick’s present-day, pressing desire to remove Thomas from a mental institution he is convinced is not the right place for his brother. But at this very institution, Dominick winds up having his own psychiatric counselling, finally forcing him to acknowledge his self-destructive behavior and come to terms with his past and present existence.

In mixing the past and the present, the author excellently portrays Dominick’s helplessness against the abuse of power, evoking a flawed, but basically decent, man. In a candid exploration of mental illness, dysfunctional families, domestic and child abuse, I found this a masterful, multi-layered story. The lyrical style, realistic dialogue, excellent imagery and well-drawn characters bring the story to life, and I would highly recommend it for all lovers of literary fiction.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: character-driven stories about dysfunctional families.

Avoid if you don’t like: stories about child and domestic abuse, or mental illness.

Ideal accompaniments: very comfy armchair, it’s 900 pages long!

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Available from Amazon

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