This week’s installment of Favorite Titles Fridays are two books by Wally Lamb that had an incredible impact on me and my love for literature. I first read She’s Come Undone when I was 16, and was blown away by the way Wally Lamb is able to tell a story and the depth of his characters. The unflinching way he is able to write his characters on such a human level, and never shying away from even the ugliest realities of life are what sets him apart from his peers. I recently reviewed his latest release, I’ll Take You There, and he never ceases to amaze me with his undeniable talent for story-telling.
She’s Come Undone follows the main character, Dolores Price, along her journey of a traumatic childhood that leads her to find a comfort in food that she hasn’t experienced through anything else. Her overeating causes her to become morbidly obese by the age of 17, and after the loss of her mother she goes to college in Pennsylvania where she is constantly ridiculed for her weight and deeply unhappy. She develops an obsession with Dante, the long distance boyfriend of her roommate and builds up a fantasy in her head that if she were thinner and prettier that he would love her. Dolores becomes severely depressed, and attempts suicide by trying to drown herself. She is committed to a psychiatric facility, where she spends years trying to work through her issues, and also manages to lose over 100 pounds. She becomes frustrated with her lack of progress in her therapy, and decides to leave the mental hospital and move to Vermont, where she has found that her former obsession Dante lives and works as an English teacher. She gets a job there and moves into an apartment right across from Dante’s, and eventually they begin a relationship. They even get married, but Dante is sometimes cruel and often controlling of Dolores, and when she becomes pregnant, he forces her to get an abortion. After the loss of the baby she desperately wanted, she finally admits to Dante that she had only moved to Vermont to try to be with him and admits that she had been obsessed with him while in college, and that their relationship had all been part of an elaborate plan. She and Dante divorce, and she moves back to her grandmother’s house that she spent many years living in during her unhappy childhood. Dolores inherits the house after her grandmother dies, and after the funeral is able to connect with some friends who she grows very close to, forming a surrogate family that encourages her to find her own happiness. Dolores begins to live her life for herself, finally gains the self-confidence she has long searched for, and finally begins to be happy. She finally finds true love, and finally makes peace with her troubled and traumatic past.
The Hour I First Believed is part fiction and part fact, telling the story of a teacher and his wife who both worked at Columbine High School at the time of one of the deadliest school shootings in history. Caelum Quirk, a 47 year old high school teacher who teaches at Columbine, and his wife Maureen, the school nurse, are happily married and enjoying life in Littleton, Colorado. Caelum is called away just days before the attack to take care of his ailing aunt and must leave town. It is with horror that he hears about the events taking place in his hometown, in his school, and watches helplessly hundreds miles away as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold take the lives of several students, one teacher, as well as their own. Frantic, Caelum isn’t able to get in touch with Maureen because she had been in the library, hiding in a cabinet, and is among the last people to be evacuated. The library had been the epicenter of the attacks, and Maureen is left with horrible PTSD and depression. He comes home to try and comfort his wife, but she is distant and angry with Caelum for not being there. They soon leave Colorado for Caelum’s hometown to find some comfort and safety away from the turmoil that surrounds their little town. When Caelum and Maureen arrive in Three Rivers, their marriage is barely holding on, and Maureen is withdrawn and quickly begins to unravel and sink into a darkness that takes over her life. While cleaning out his attic, he finds boxes and boxes of old letters and mementos that trace his family history back to the civil war era to his troublesome childhood. As another tragedy occurs, Caelum must summon all his strength to be there for his wife and puts his own strength to the ultimate test. It’s a beautiful story of love, tragedy, loss, and the strength it takes to rebuild your life from the ruins of tragedy.
I read The Hour I First Believed at a tumultuous time in my life, and it was proof of how literature can help us through the hardest times. It is such an amazing and complex story, dealing with the events of Caelum’s life as it happens, but also diving into the layers of his family’s story, recounting the lives of the family members who impacted his life and making Caelum understand them in a way he had never before, which also leads him to reconcile some of the pain of his past. It is truly an amazing book and I have tried to get everyone I know to read it, but a 1000+ page book is daunting to most people who aren’t bibliophiles and look at a book of that size as a beautiful challenge, meant to engage and excite us as we go on an adventure along with the characters. So, if you’re looking for a great book to dive into, either of these Wally Lamb books are amazing works of literature and are worth the time they take to read.
I hope this post makes at least one person read one of these books, because they are amazing and deserve to be read.
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