Review – I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

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

Also reviewed  by: Hey Lady Watcha Readin’?, Musings of a Bookish Kitty, caribousmom.

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?

20 thoughts on “Review – I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

  1. I finished reading this book yesterday and I loved it! It was my first Wally Lamb book and I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been put off by the length for ages, but it didn’t feel like a long book. I agree that 200 pages from the middle could have been removed without losing anything, but that still left 600 wonderful pages and I didn’t find any of it dragged.

    I look forward to reading more Wally Lamb books in the future!

    1. Jackie: That’s kind of why I wish I had read IKTMiT before The Hour I First Believed, because all of the tricks he used would have been new and fresh. I agree with you about it not really feeling like a long book, The Hour I First Believed didn’t either.

  2. I feel like this has become my mantra these days, but it is the rare 600+ page book that I feel couldn’t have benefited from some massive editing. The longer the book, the more I feel can be cut! I saw the new Ken Follett book yesterday and I thought the exact same thing as you: why do you have to write so much?!?

    Also, one of the reasons I hated the movie Slumdog Millionaire is because so many bad things kept happening to the main character that I couldn’t stand it… I worry I would feel the same way about this book.

    1. Steph, have you read the book on which Slumdog Millionaire was based (Q&A)? It’s not depressing like the movie at all, so funny. After I had read it, recommended it to a friend, my sister, and sister-in-law and all of them felt the same. When it was turned into a movie, we were excited at first, but when we saw the movie were disappointed by how diffferent it was in feel from the book.

      Lu, thanks for the review. The length is precisely the reason why I haven’t read Wally Lamb yet. Or maybe ever. 😀

      1. Claire: Even though his books are really long, they don’t feel like it. They never really feel like the chunksters that they are. I think I read The Hour I First Believed in a couple days!

  3. I recently had a commenter say that Wally Lamb is full of misery, and you seem to echo that here. I’m not sure I’ll try him any time soon.

  4. I agree with you about Wally Lamb. I hated, hated, hated She’s Come Undone, but I keep wanting to read this one. But it might stay on the TBR list indefinitely. 🙂

  5. I read this so long ago that I have troubles rememebering much about it. She’s Come Undone was much more memorable to me–maybe because it’s a tad shorter? Anyway, agree that Mr. Lamb could use a heavier red pen when revising his books. Maybe I’ll skip The Hour I First Believed?

  6. Have I mentioned before that I love your rating system and may well steal it from you? That is an excellent way of expressing how you feel about a book!

  7. Fair enough, though I disagree. I like how long Lamb’s books are, and I found it to be a complex and well told story. While I felt all of this before I met Lamb in person, I’m especially unable to be objective in any way now that I’ve met him. I find him to be one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever come in contact with.

    1. Trish: I hope one day to meet him! I think he must be a fascinating person and it might make me have a better insight into his books. I did like this book and do think that it is complex and well-told, just not perfectly told. Maybe that’s too much to ask 😉

  8. I have “She’s Come Undone” in my TBR pile. I’m not sure when I’ll get to it (something I say about a lot of the books that are in there), but now I am curious about the differing opinions of Wally Lamb’s works! It was interesting to read your opinion.

  9. I have never heard of Wally Lamb but I appreciate your honesty about this book. I don’t think you were railing on it, you were just pointing out some things that made the book difficult and I could see from what you said that you gave a clear response to the book. Looks like you’re reading some really interesting books right now as well, looking forward to your thoughts!

  10. Not to be contrarian but I loved, loved, loved She’s Come Undone. I remember very clearly reading it on the lawn in the Place des Vosge in Paris on a beautiful sunny day. I was so enthralled with it I forgot where I was until I looked up. I think it is much better edited (and enjoyable) than I Know This Much is True. In fact when I read IKTMIT I remember feeling like he had thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. If you liked these other Lambs, I can’ imagine you not liking SCU.

  11. Thank you Leslie. I very much liked the story and the real crafting in the book, but I thought some editor should have cut a lot of the repitition: eg some of Thomas’ repeating difficulties, the lengthy police interrogation of Dominick etc.. But it a very well observed story of life as this family lived it.

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