So I know I’ve told you this story before, but I’ve always had this prejudice against Wally Lamb because my grandmother and my aunt, who read a lot and whose opinion I trust very much, both read She’s Come Undone and hated it with a burning passion. But then The Hour I First Believed came out and something about it made me have to read it. And I read it, and I liked it, though I thought it could have been cut down a lot. Now that I’ve read I Know This Much is True I think the same exact thing is true here.
I Know This Much is True is about Dominick Birdsey and Thomas Birdsey, identical twins. Thomas has schizophrenia and Dominick does not. That alone is a fascinating set-up, but of course in a Wally Lamb novel I have learned that one trauma is never enough. Even though I don’t like to begin a review with my complaints, but my complaints about I Know This Much is True are so Wally Lamb-ish you probably already know what they are. The book is too long, to start with. The story-within-a-story weighs the entire novel down. But most of all, just too many awful things happen to Dominick that it stops being believable, a problem I also had with The Hour I First Believed.
As for the good, I Know This Much is True explores a truly fascinating relationship, the relationship between identical twins, and what happens when one twin is ill and the other isn’t. The family history presented in the novel is sweeping and interesting, though I thought the novel-within-a-novel, Dominique Tempesta’s account of his life was mostly uninteresting to me, until the last few sections. Dominick and Thomas’s grandfather Dominique’s story is integral to the novel, but it ended up taking away from Dominick’s story. The ending of I Know This Much is True was very satisfying, and even though I slogged through the middle of the book, I never stopped being fascinated by the Birdseys. Like all Wally Lamb books (well, the two I’ve read), the middle 200 pages are really inconsequential and could have been removed all together.
I know it sounds like I’m railing on this book pretty hard for how much I actually liked it. Lamb’s books are clearly well-researched. They are well-loved, every aspect of these characters’ lives are planned out perfectly. But I hope someone knocks on Lamb’s door and tells him, “Hey, you know, you don’t have to write so much. Maybe then we’d see your next book faster. And really, no one’s lives are that bad.” Finally, I’m left thinking, in the end, could I really tell Dominick apart from the hero of The Hour I First Believed, Caelum? Probably not.
So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR
PS. After writing this review, I really started thinking that I would have liked this book a whole lot better if I had never read The Hour I First Believed. THIFB used all the same tricks, but less successfully, and therefore I was sick of said tricks before I could even enjoy them. Ya know what I mean?