Nov 2, 2018

She's Come Undone

by Wally Lamb

Sorry ahead of time if some of this is spoilers. It wasn't what I expected. Never read any Wally Lamb before, although I've heard of his titles. Wow, this guy can tell a story. I couldn't put it down. It's one of those narratives of a train-wreck life, but you can't look away (I'm thinking of The Book of Ruth). This girl goes through everything. Mentally ill mother, father who disappears from her life, Catholic schooling, raped by the upstairs tenant at thirteen, struggles with her weight, hates her life, serious rebellion, floundering attempt at college life, running away from it all, stay in a mental hospital, some strange but life-affirming therapy, ditching that before her psychiatrist thinks she's ready, finding a man but that's a mess too, writing them off altogether. In the end circling back to where she began (reluctantly), and finally coming to peace with her life, with the mistakes her parents, her grandmother, her ex had made. Epiphanal moment with a stranded whale in Cape Cod. Abortion. Suicide attempts. Friends stricken with AIDS. Chaos of the seventies and eighties. Some parts were a bit crude for me, but I found myself rooting for this narrator, in spite of her caustic commentary and consistently bad choices. I did think a few of the events in the story were implausible- like how she tracked down her college roommate's former boyfriend- but I bought it while I was reading the story. Or the drastic changes her body went through- it seemed rather unrealistic, too easy? But again, I blasted past that while I was in the narrative. I was dreading what the ending would lead to, relieved the author didn't turn it into a disaster or a perfect ending, but something that felt satisfyingly real. Of anything, the complex relationships between people are so vivid in this story. The little networks of lies, the gradations of trust. Especially the unhealthy relationship she had with her mother, which it took her whole life to come to terms with (the book spans about forty years).

PS: I was horrified at how fish were treated in this book. So rarely do I come across my hobby depicted in fiction, I had some anticipation when an acquaintance invited the narrator to see her aquariums. It was appalling what she did to them in a fit of revenge. Much later in the story she kept her own fish, in atrocious conditions, and of course they died. Bah.

Rating: 4/5               405 pages, 1992

more opinions:
Dot Scribbles
who else? I know you're out there!


  1. I read this years ago and loved it too but have to admit I don't remember anything about the fish.

  2. Like Kathy, I read this one years ago, and do not remember much beyond really liking it. It was my first by Lamb.

  3. Well, the fish are a detail that probably would not jump out to anyone else.

    Did you guys write about it? I'm looking for more reviews or thoughts to link to... . . .

  4. I'm afraid I read it pre-blogging days, and so I didn't blog about it.


Comments are screened due to spam.