I read Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone a few months ago, and it’s stuck with me pretty solidly. Lamb doesn’t pull any punches with the s*** that goes down, but his characters are so real in their complete flawed effed-up-ness that it kept me page turning until the end. I decided to follow up with Lamb’s other famous novel, I Know This Much Is True.
IKTMIS is the story of identical twin brothers Thomas and Dominick Birdsey. Thomas has paranoid schizophrenia and has been institutionalized for half of his life, almost twenty years. The story opens with Thomas entering a public library and cutting off his own right hand, believing his sacrifice has been commanded by God to stop the approaching Gulf War. Dominick, the narrator, searches through his relationship with his brother, recalling a childhood with a submissive mother and abusive stepfather and trying to come to terms with his existence as the mentally and physically “whole” twin.
I should’ve been prepared for Lamb coming out of SCU, but honestly, this was probably the most emotionally difficult book I have ever read. Each of the characters experiences a pain that is almost palpable in its intensity, and Dominick sits at the forefront of this. Bound to his brother for life by love, fear, and guilt, he is unable to move forward on his own or forge an identity for himself separate from that of Thomas’s protector. Dominick himself certainly isn’t a perfect protagonist: he’s often arrogant and aggressive. After growing up both scornful and jealous of his brother’s sensitivity, he martyrs himself in caring for Thomas, accepting that sole responsibility as his role in life.
The best thing you could do was cut your losses. . . Play defense. That was something I always understood and Thomas never did.
The second half of the book weakened a little for me, as Dominick is hospitalized after an accident, reads their grandfather’s memoirs, and searches for their father’s identity. But the first half— Man, the first half just ripped out my heartstrings. These identical twins, so close they can tell when the other one is hurt, and one spending his life watching the other be destroyed, unable to either help or leave. It’s a story of redemption, really, for Dominick, redeeming himself for failing to protect both Thomas and himself.
“. . . there are two young men lost in the woods. . . I may never find one of the young men,” [Dr. Patel] said. “He has been gone so long. The odds, I’m afraid, may be against it. But as for the other, I may have better luck. The other young man may be calling me.”