Book Review: I Know This Much Is True

In honor of today’s Readathon, which asks people to continuously read books over a 24-hour period, I thought I’d post a review of my best read of 2014 thus far. While I think the idea behind Readathon is cool, I know I couldn’t do it since I like to take my book in small bites and really digest the plot. But to those who are doing it, enjoy, and probably drink lots of coffee!

So I’ve just completed my second really long book of the year. The first was The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, which I may review at a later date. This one though is titled I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb.

On posting that I was reading this on Facebook, it quickly became clear that I’m the last person on earth to pick it up, not surprising I guess, given that it came out in 1998. Many immediately said they loved it also, having some deep sense of connection to and empathy for the characters.

The main characters are twins Thomas and Dominic Birdsey, (last name may or may not be spelled correctly but for that you can blame the fact that I read it in audio). We meet Thomas just as his Schizophrenia leads him to profoundly injure himself in an attempt to stop the oncoming Gulf war of the early 90s. He takes this action in a library, and other patrons and the librarian demand that he be put away quickly. He had already been in a lower-level facility, but they decide to escalate him to one with greater security, and a lot less flexibility for him and his family.

Much of the rest of the story is essentially told in flashback: through Dominic’s therapy sessions, thoughts from their stepfather, and a diary that their grandfather wrote about his coming to the US from Sicely at the turn of the 20th Century. It is a fascinating tale of hardship, bombast, and the strength of a special kind of love that only people with a fairly rare relationship can understand.

I think my favorite parts of the story were those concerning their life in the 1960s. How Dominic met someone at a place called the Dial Tone Lounge, a bar with tables that allowed people to dial in the number of another table if they saw someone attractive there. Did such establishments exist? That sounds like fun.

Of course, not all was great for them then. We get a glimpse of how their stepfather Ray treated, and often mistreated, Dominic, their mother, and especially Thomas. As with other books I’ve read, I can really feel Thomas’s discomfort, enduring taunts that he was a “sissy” and too girl-like, as my biological parent very regularly said such things to me as well. Later in the story, Ray claims that he had a hard time not doing this as he had been raised in an era where men were taught to always display a tough exterior. That’s sad.

I also liked the complexity of Dominic’s feelings. While he often yearned to have his own life and space, he nevertheless continued to fight vehemently for his brother and whatever his brother wanted. He did this even to the extent that it hurt his relationships with women. It was certainly a tough fight with a less-than-desirable outcome.

I would definitely recommend this book, though probably not as one to consume during the readathon. I’m not sure how many print pages it is exactly, but at 30 hours of audio it has to be of a pretty good size. It will however make for a great summer read, as there is lots of talk of waterfalls, beaches, and entertainment. There is also a deep exploration of those characteristics that make us beautifully made, if flawed, human beings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.