At almost 1000 pages, I didn’t think I’d ever finish I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. The book was at one time on the New York Times Bestseller List and an Oprah’s Book Club pick. I had never heard of it. My mom passed it to me after she bought it for $1.00 at our favorite used book store. Between books, I thought I’d give it a try.
The book tells the life story of twins Thomas and Dominick Birdsey. Dominick narrates. Thomas is a paranoid schizophrenic who has been in and out of institutions since he was 19. One day he visits the local library on an outing with his group home and lops off his hand to show America that he means business. The Persian Gulf Crisis is an abomination and must be stopped. Because he is now a danger to himself and others, Thomas is sentenced to the local maximum security mental facility. Dominick, who has always taken care of his weaker brother, is devastated by this event. He tries to do everything he can to get Thomas out. He consults with Thomas’ doctors and social worker but ultimately finds his own way and pays a high price.
Dominick has his own share of problems, aside from what’s going on with Thomas. He has no motivation for his own work as a house painter, relationship problems with his live-in girlfriend, strong feelings for his ex-wife, a stepfather he hates, a manuscript from his long-dead grandfather passed to him from his mother before her death that is partially written in Italian and Sicilian, he is in counseling himself and still grieving his baby who died from SIDS. The past is revealed in snippets from Dominick’s memory so there is a constant shift between the past and present.
The old manuscript is lost for a time but is later literally dropped in Dominick’s lap, fully translated. Through this autobiography of Domenico Onofrio Tempesto, a proud and arrogant Sicilian, Dominick learns much about his mother’s father and his harelipped mother but nothing about the father he never knew.
When I first started the book, I had to make myself keep reading. I’m glad I did. It took a little while to “get into” the book but it was worth it.