I Know This Much Is True
Written by Wally Lamb
Published by HarperCollins. June 1998, 817 pages. ISBN 0-06-039162-6. $28.50 USD
Published by Thomas T. Beeler.
Large Print, December 1998. ISBN 1-57490-164-8. 949 pages. $33.95 USD
Published by Harper trade May 1999, ISBN: 0-06-098756-1, 912 pages $16 USD
Published by HarperCollins, March 2000, ISBN: 0-06-039280-0
December 2003, ISBN: 0-06-109764-0, 912 pages, $7.99 USD
Intended Audience: General Adult
Includes a list of resources for mental health organizations.
This book explores many topics such as mental illness, dysfunctional families, domestic abuse, guilt, and sibling responsibility. All this is done with unsparing candor and well-sustained dramatic tension. There is humor and surprise throughout the book. It is an honest, moving account of one man’s search, denial, and acceptance of self.
The narrator of this book is Dominick Birdsey, a forty-year-old house painter who used to be a high-school history teacher. His entire life has been compromised and constricted. Anger, fear, his paranoid schizophrenic identical twin brother which he both loves deeply and resents, and his past. The twins grew up with their adoptive father, Ray, who was a spit-and-polish ex-Navy man. This man who was six and a half feet tall spent the weekdays sleeping upstairs in the spare room and at night worked building submarines. They also lived with their timid mother with a harelip, Concettina. There is a mystery of who their real father is.
The twins were born in the last moments of 1949, and the first minutes of 1950. They are physically mirror images who have grown into separate, yet connected, entities.
Dominick being seemingly strong and protective, yet fearful. He is his mother’s watchful “monkey”. Thomas, seemingly weak and sweet, yet noble. He is his mother’s gentle “bunny.”
Dominick has fought for both separation and wholeness, and ultimately for self-protection in a house that is dominated by fear of Ray since childhood. Ray is a bully who abuses his power over his stepsons. Dominick’s talent for survival costs him his marriage to the warm and beautiful Dessa which he still loves. When his Bible-spouting zealot twin commits an unthinkable act Dominick is put to the ultimate test. What Thomas does threatens the tenuous balance of both twins’ lives.
The boys’ difficult childhoods are seen through flashbacks. These include some from the summer of 1969, when Dominick betrayed Thomas and others in crucial ways.
Dominick learns through his grandfather’s life that wrongly used power defeats both oppressor and oppressed. Now he must pick through the humble shards of his deconstructed life and search for the courage and love to forgive. To make amends for both his and his ancestors’ wrongdoings, and to rebuild himself into something more than just the haunted shadow of Thomas.
Thomas believes himself an agent of God, and cuts off his right arm in the public library as an attempt to avert war in the Persian Gulf. Dominick once again must protect his brother. The psychologist who is treating Thomas sees Dominick as the twin who might be saved. Together they examine Dominick’s childhood with a bullying stepfather and Dominick’s marriage that failed after the death of his infant daughter, as well as the newly recovered autobiography of his grandfather.
Wally Lamb’s craftsmanship and characterizations in this book, as in his other works are exceptional. This fine work is relentless in its effect. This book could probably have been better in a shorter version, the 900 pages are a bit long-winded. Part of the reason the book is so long is the book within the book. The twin’s grandfather’s 200 page autobiography is presented in its entirety within this book.
In 1998 this book won both a New York Times Notable Books of the Year award and a Friends of Libraries U.S.A. Readers’ Choice Award. It was chosen as the Oprah Book Club® Selection, in June of 1998. This book has been on many best sellers lists including: