Monday, July 27, 2009

*Karen, *Wally Lamb, *She's Come Undone

I'm back! Finally reading from my list again.

I found She's Come Undone to be a very easy read, but it was one of those books where I wasn't sure what the plot really was, anyway. If I were to sum up the book, I would say that the point of it seemed to be to find an excuse to go crazy, fake being sane, and then finally get to be sane again. It is my main complaint about novels that span a lifetime. If you're not very attached and interested in the character, there's no point in reading the whole thing.

This is uncomfortable to admit, but I think the reason I kept reading--sometimes unhappily--was because the main character, Dolores Price, reminded me a lot of myself. Fat, blaming the weight for my bad attitude, prone to lashing out, deluding myself, holding the world responsible for my pain, lack of boundaries . . . the list goes on. So, at times, while reading it, I wanted to bury my head under a pillow and cry over being so damned obvious myself.

But I got over it. Why? Because Dolores's therapist is so absurd, that the ridiculousness of a grown man insisting to his patient that he is her mother was just so alien to my own experiences with therapists that it jolted me out of myself and into the story.

Dolores's major emotional shifts are marked by the death of aquatic creatures. She kills her would-be lesbian lover's pet fish out of rage at being molested twice in one night, and a third time in her lifetime (fourth if you count her dad's tweaking of her boobs, which she never takes him to task over but I'm disinclined to let him off the hook so easily), then runs off to hang out with some suicidal whales, looks a dead whale in the eye and decides not to off herself, goes into a home (with the Mommy Therapist) then all seems to go swimmingly for awhile, even though the reader knows better, then she loses her shit again, accidentally kills her pet goldfish, then gets her life together and sees a whale.

Was Wally Lamb using the fish as a metaphor for raw, primitive emotion, and whales for empowered decision-making? Are whales, being mammals, more like humans than fish? Or am I obsessing and nit-picking over nothing? Would I understand this book better if I read Moby Dick? Is there something I'm missing about whales and fish that is a well-established principle in literature?


moonrat said...

Karen--I think that the appeal of this book might be really specific (and perhaps generational). It's not about "liking" Dolores per se; it's about feeling like you ARE Dolores. My mother (b. 1951, like Dolores) told me she felt like Wally Lamb was "inside my head, in my childhood, watching my tv." I didn't feel that way--I read it because I heard Terry Gross interview him on NPR, and remembered the scene with the whale vividly (even though I was probably 7 or 8 at the time I heard the interview).

So in short: I thought it was interesting, but didn't love it. My mother LOVED it. I did go on to read I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, which I enjoyed a lot more, and which affected me a lot more strongly (my mother did not like that one).

What are you going to do?

Wally Lamb is what I think of as a "working writer"--he does SO much research in order to accurately reproduce his historical periods, the realism can take over, and for me, the vivid realism overrides unlikable characters or plot points that make you go ick (both, I guess, are products of realism, too, aren't they?).

re: the therapist: funnily, that didn't bother me.

Anonymous said...

Have not read this.... not sure I want to. Your review is good and I feel like you whared enough of the book to know it is not my kind of read.

Loved your final paragraph. Now I am sitting here trying to think of other examples of where fish are used as metaphors.

I am coming up empty.

00 Pisces said...

I think you might be right about it being generational. My parents are just a little bit younger than yours, and as a result, the television shows and records with which I am familar are just a little bit different than Dolores's pop culture references. I think that Judy Blume's SUMMER SISTERS probably had a stronger effect on me than SHE'S COME UNDONE, probably simply because I recognize more of the bands and the political topics are a little more in line with things that my parents talked about.

Wally Lamb is a very good writer. Since moonrat liked I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, why don't you give that one a try?

Anonymous said...

Even I think you might be right about it being generational.

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